First Week in China: Cockroach Lunch Date, Flat Search, and Orientations
Friday, August 17th
I flew from Prague, Czech Republic (I lived there for a little over a year and a half) to Hong Kong with a layover in Beijing. While checking my bag, I noticed signs everywhere, informing people to not leave anything with lithium batteries in their checked bags. I simply checked my bags without giving it a second thought.
Naturally, it was't until after security that I realized I’d left my old iPhone in my checked bag. Worry struck me like a pile of bricks! The people at check-in had told me that it might take multiple weeks to receive my bag if I left lithium batteries in them.
I boarded my flight, anxious the entire time while flying and during my layover in Beijing.
Saturday, August 18th
Once I went to baggage claim in Hong Kong, lo and behold: there was a sign on the conveyor belt with my name on it, telling me to go to the baggage claim customer service desk.
Once I approached the desk and told them my name, they immediately asked if I had any lithium batteries in my checked bag. I replied with a sigh and a "yes," then the guy helping me expertly printed out papers, asked me other questions, and had me sign papers. All of this was to get my bag back as soon as possible, which was still in Beijing. All I had to do was give permission to the Beijing airport to throw out my lithium batteries.
Sure, no problem. Just throw out my iPhone!
The guy then told me that my bag should be arriving at the Hong Kong airport on the next flight from Beijing, either at 4:00 PM or 12:00 AM. But, at that point, it was only 12:00 PM! I only had one option: wait a few hours and hope to all the gods and divine beings that it arrived at 4:00!
For the next four hours, I sat in the baggage claim area, basically twiddling my thumbs and pacing. At around 4:00, I went to a baggage claim conveyor belt designated for a flight from Beijing. However, mine wasn’t there.
I went to the customer service desk and asked about my bag again, which they miraculously answered with, "Did you check over there?" Another flight just landed from Beijing!
I waited for at least 3 millennia for the bag to come and by god, it was there!!! I actually leapt for joy!
With my bag rolling behind me, I wheeled on out of there and to the bus service area of the airport. I needed to get to the border in order to apply for my visa, then cross the border into Shenzhen, where I’d be living.
After following the directions from my job agency, I bought my bus ticket, then needed to wait an hour before the bus departed. Instantly, I wheeled over to a restaurant and ate some yummy Chinese food!
Later, I arrived at the Hong Kong border and went through without a problem. I stumbled around a little afterwards, unaware what to do until I discovered I had to get back on the bus I just left! Fool.
At the Shenzhen border, I collected some important paperwork from an agent from my job agency, which she passed to me from the Shenzhen border. Just right over a little barrier. Strange how that was legal!
I then went to the "visa" counter, which was in a small and dark corner of the building. I passed the official all of my documents and passport and patiently waited to receive them back, holding a business Z visa! Which, thankfully, I got with no issues!
After about 45 minutes, I went through immigration easily with my shiny new visa stuck in my passport and finally met with my agent without a barrier between us. Hooray!
What is an agency when teaching English abroad?
Basically, an agency is the middleman between you and your school. For the agencies in China, they usually help you:
find a job with a school
set up a bank account
help you apply for and obtain your work visa
get you a SIM card
take you apartment hunting
get a Metro card
register with the police
and other fun and necessary stuff.
But, for all of that (and more), they obviously don't work for free; they take a chunk out of your pay each month for their services. You don't pay them technically. The school does, but since it's coming out of your salary, you're basically paying them. But, you still get paid a good deal after their cut!
Who was my agency?
My agency was SeaDragon International Education, or SDE. So far, they've been decent and helpful with the whole process. They helped me do everything listed above and other necessary steps, which was great! They even paid for the first 4 nights in a hotel when I arrived. Granted, it wasn’t a pleasant stay…
Back to my story!
After the border crossing, I took a cab with my agent to the hotel and checked in. The hotel room was very small and had no windows, but I supposed it was tolerable because it was free and only for a few days. Afterwards, my agent recommended a place to eat, but it was small, dirty, and had a poor health code rating. I quickly declined to eat there and instead, walked to a McDonalds to eat dinner because I was too nervous to eat anywhere else! Some "brave world traveler" I am!
I later learned to not take the health codes very seriously in restaurants in Shenzhen. They're not legitimate. There are 3 ratings: a green face for great, a yellow face for medium, and a red face for poor. It may seem like it's based on cleanliness or food quality, but it's actually more for the appearance of the place and whether or not the owner paid a bribe!
If you're worried about eating somewhere in China, you can eat at a place if: there are a good number of people eating there and if the place looks relatively clean (not if there's a piece of poop on the floor or something!).
Sunday, August 19th
In the morning, I needed to go to the SDE (my agency) office, which was conveniently a block or so walk from the hotel. When I got there, I immediately met other future ESL teachers as well, who were all ironically from the US!
While at the office, I did some important paperwork and other various things. I handed them some forms I brought from the States, like my passports (duh), notarized and authenticated bachelor's degree, TESOL certificate, criminal background check, and other various documents. I signed some stuff, got my SIM card, and applied for a bank account.
My SIM card, by the way, was from China Unicom and I paid for 5 months in advance for only about $50, which came with unlimited data and some calling. What a deal!
After that hubbub, I went to lunch with a few fellow ESL teachers. I noticed instantly while ordering food that they had never been to Asia before. They were speaking fluent English sentences, asking for things on the side of their meals, etc. But, the waiter didn't speak English, which is very common in Asia and especially China. So, it was a little embarrassing to me because I learned long ago not to do that!
Pro tip when moving to China/Asia: when ordering food, translate what you want, point at pictures, and/or talk as little as possible. They will not give you things on the side or do other special orders you may have!
This was my first meal in China other than McDonalds. I ordered some spicy beef, vegetables, etc. and it was.....unbelievable. Chinese food is out of this world. It's almost unfair how flavorful, rich, spicy, salty, and tastebud-pleasuring the food is— and is superior to the Chinese food in America!
After lunch, I did some more paper signing, then went to COCO Park. COCO Park is a huge attraction here. It's basically a gigantic mall with tons of shopping, but also bars and clubs. I went there and walked around, then stopped at a bar/restaurant and had a very overpriced craft beer.
While there, I also admired the Ping An Financial Building, which is the tallest building in Shenzhen and also the fourth tallest building in the world! Quite impressive.
Afterwards, it was dinnertime, but I obviously couldn't afford any place near COCO Park. Instead, I took the Metro (a.k.a. subway) back to my hotel, then ate at a buffet-style restaurant. It only cost me $3 for lots of various different food items, like meat, vegetables, and other goodies. However, the food didn't taste THAT amazing. It was kind of just average. But, it was very cost-friendly!
Monday, August 20th
In the morning, I groggily made it to my agency again with other teachers. With some agents, we all took a trip via the metro with our brand spankin' new metro cards to the Education Bureau. There, we sat around for a little while, then got these "receiving letters." Those are basically forms where the education bureau accepts you, then stamps it. Later, you bring it to your school, have them accept you, then they stamp it., too
Afterwards, all of us went to have lunch together at a typical Chinese restaurant. When eating a traditional Chinese meal whether it be at a restaurant or in someone's home, you basically order/cook a plethora of different food items and then share them with the people you're dining with. People don't order individual meals for themselves, like they do in the states or in other Western countries. Everyone shares!
One of my favorite parts is that all of the platters are placed on a "lazy Susan," so you can spin it when you want something on the other side of the table!
So, that's what we did. We shared all kinds of amazing food: spicy beef, tons of different vegetables, noodle platters, rice, duck, chicken, eggs, fish, and so much more. It was incredible! I stuffed myself as usual! And best part: it came out to $4 per person.
With my tummy satisfied, we all split up into groups to go apartment searching! Specifically, I went to Fanshen, an area in Shenzhen, which is where my school was located.
However, the search was pretty pathetic. We just walked around in the stifling heat, just asking if any apartment buildings had available rooms for rent. In the end, we all only saw two apartments. But, neither were potential prospects. One was too expensive and in a grimy area; the other had no windows and was the size of a closet. I ended up searching for hours, coated in sweat, and came up empty.
First problem with SeaDragon: pathetic apartment hunting.
Eventually, I went back to our hotel's area and had dinner with one of the other ESL teachers. Scrumptious once again!
Tuesday, August 21st
Since the agency failed to show us an apartment me wanted, I had to use an agent. Usually, agents in Shenzhen cost 1/2 a month's rent if you find a place with them. Yikes! But, luckily, SeaDragon knew of an agency that only cost 500 yuan (about $70). I messaged him on WeChat, then met with him to see an apartment in a great area, which was near Bao'an Stadium (very close to the center of Bao'an, our district of Shenzhen, and my school).
But, that apartment....not so good. It was absolutely filthy! There were holes in the walls, someone's hair and dust everywhere, the stove was grimy and disgusting. I mean, I could go on and on. Basically, it was not clean or well taken care of whatsoever. But, apparently, if I wanted to move in, the landlord would give us "a few days free" if I paid for a cleaning lady to come in and clean it.
Get the hell out of here! I needed to see it when it was clean as well! Plus, I wasn’t about to pay a cleaning lady to clean an apartment that someone else made disgusting!
So, I practically ran out of there in stitches. Apparently, that's common to find in China. When you look at apartments, they're usually filthy. The Chinese standard of clean is far different from a Westerners standard of clean!
After that, my agent left and said he didn't have anything else to show me at that time. So, we went our separate ways. I ate some lunch, then ducked into a Starbuck's.
I didn't want to see it because it was a little far from my school, but it was right by then-boyfriend’s.
And right away, I loved the place! On the ground floor of the building, there was a large cafe with pool tables, treadmills, a foosball table, and tables to just chill with friends or work on your computer. Pretty sweet! The apartment itself was a studio, but it was decorated so nicely and felt so homey. It was pretty perfect for my taste!
Oh, and it was CLEAN.
However, it was a 15-minute bike ride to the metro from there. That, and it was so far from my school. I would have to ride a bike, then take a metro 4 stops, then transfer for one. I dismissed it right then. It was just too much of a hassle.
Wednesday, August 22nd
I met with a fellow teacher in SeaDragon and went to a metro stop to go to Dongmen, which is a popular place in Shenzhen. It's a huge area dedicated to shopping and street food!
Then, we went to Dongmen, where we walked around and ate so many delicious food items. We ate barbecued squid on skewers, noodles, meat, and other incredible foods! We had no shame. Dongmen became (and still is) one of my favorite places in Shenzhen!
Afterwards, I took the metro back towards the hotel's area, where we walked around and then went to a restaurant we knew and loved. We sat and had some drinks. Eventually, it was dinnertime, so we stayed there and had some dinner, too!
Favorite food items so far: spicy beef and spicy cauliflower! KILLER.
Thursday, August 23rd
I finally got my bank account set up and running, so I went there just to finalize it, sign some papers, and get my card. Easy, peasy. They also set us up for WeChat.
WeChat is a very popular app in China. It's primarily a text messaging app, but it also allows you to put money onto it through your back account and lets you just scan barcodes to pay for various things. You can even pay for rent with it! It's pretty handy!
Friday, August 24th
This was the first day of my official orientation with SeaDragon. I was in their office from 9AM to 7PM. Pretty brutal.
…And unnecessary. It was just like I knew it would be: they put up a PowerPoint and blabbered for hours on end about information I already knew. The orientation could've been crammed in maybe an hour, but instead, they wasted our time for the entire day talking about their company, and other various things we either didn't need to know or already knew.
At one point though, they did give us free lunch in the restaurant in the building. But, hilariously enough, when we all sat down at a big table, we noticed something moving under the lazy Susan: a damn cockroach!
We all informed the staff, who proceeded to clumsily pick up the very heavy glass piece and try to shake out the cockroach only five feet away from the table. It was an hysterical scene!
Eventually, they got it out, and just put the lazy Susan back on the table without cleaning it. Then, they brought out our food one by one.
It's funny: things like this are so common in Asia that we just continued on with our dining experience. However, if this happened in America or in Europe, no one would stand for it and we would've just left!
Ironically enough, the food was amazing! And no, we didn't get sick after, either!
We all returned to the orientation where we basically were talked at for a while, then split into groups. In our groups, we had to design a 45-minute lesson, then present them the following day as a group.
This was irritating because they didn't really give us any other information than topics to choose from and the amount of time we were allowed to teach it in. That was it! Luckily, I knew what I was doing, so I helped guide my group in the right directions. But, if that wasn't the case, we wouldn't have done well! It was like they were setting us up for failure.
Saturday, August 25th
I headed to the office once again to give my presentation with my group, which we did easily. Luckily, we all got praise and everything was so lax and comfortable, which was great.
It was dinnertime when we finished, and so a group of us went to a local restaurant and ordered tons of amazing food! Duck blood soup, cauliflower, green beans, duck, noodles, beef, and more! It was one of my favorite meals so far!
After we were stuffed, we all hopped on the metro and went to COCO Park. There, we met up with a couple of other people, then went to an Irish bar called McCawley's, which was supposed to be pretty cool.
It was a typical Irish bar complete with overpriced drinks! But, you know, I prefer overpriced real drinks over counterfeit ones!
Sunday, August 26th
Being such a wonderful and self-less girlfriend, I decided that it would be worth the 40-minute trek to and from school every day to get the apartment my then-boyfriend and I liked.
The following day, we moved into our new place.
The rent for this place was substantially cheaper: 2,550 RMB ($375)!
Another positive about the place we chose was that there was a Walmart very closeby! The other place had one, too, but we were very happy that this place had one as well. We obviously went there for all of our apartment stuff, plus grocery shopping!
Even with all that hubbub, we are now very comfortable and content in our new apartment!
Concluding Thoughts on My First Week in China
I’m feeling really good so far about my move. I’m content with almost everything so far: the apartment, the area around it, my school, the agency, the people I've met (both Chinese and other foreigners), the food, prices of everything, and so on.
One downfall that's really agitating me, though: the internet. The overall WiFi and internet service are extremely slow and unpredictable. Often times, they both can be unusable!
Otherwise, I am loving it so far. I am really looking forward to teaching and living at least the next year here!