¡Hola! España

We have arrived in Madrid – to flamenco, hot chocolate and churros, and the delicious freedom that comes with free, (hopefully…) unlimited wifi.

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Out the AirBnb window

We’re AirBnB-ing it near the Estación de Atocha (Madrid’s largest railway station). We were met by Ricardo, who is from Portugal. He has left his 2 children in Portugal because he had concerns they wouldn’t adapt or pick up the language (?!), so he was interested to know how Matilda has moved through life in Australia, China and now Spain. She moans constantly and her dream is to live in one big house surrounded by all her family, and she constantly makes me wonder if I am a cruel parent for dragging her round the world all these years.

Saying that, although she is all in a muddle after 2 months in Oz with family, I think the years are paying off now she is older. She turned 11 right before we flew, and this is the first overseas travel we’ve done where she has jumped straight back into it, and we’ve had none of the drama and tantrums (me) that have sometimes plagued our past travels.

I booked Madrid for a week as initially we thought we’d have paperwork that would be done more easily in the capital. That plan changed, but now we have a chance to explore before we transition to our new life as unemployed folks who cannot afford to travel!

I’ve been hit by terrible jetlag so our first few days have been slow, and yesterday (Monday) was bureaucratic – SIM card etc. We have discovered not much (business-wise) is open on the weekend in Spain. Also, similar to Asia, things don’t open until mid-morning (gah). Can’t say much about the evenings yet as I keep falling asleep at 5:30.

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Metro trumpet player

Getting around: we got a Madrid Metro Tourist Card on the first day. I am not sure we will end up taking enough travel to justify the €40,20 (1A/1C), mostly as the main line from our apartment to the city is closed for maintenance. We met a friendly local girl while we were trying to buy the ticket which made it all worth it. She is teaching English, has worked in Costa del Sol and was able to give me some advice. It made our first day a little bit special. On the 2nd day a random guy played the trumpet in the carriage for our entire trip. So the Metro has made our “good beginning” in Spain.

I think I’m going to cave and also pay €31 to do the Madrid Tourist Bus. These are good for getting a feel for a place, and the city does feel like it is kinda sprawling. I also want to get Matilda excited about the history, and it’ll sound better coming through headphones than from me!

SIM card: Spain’s prepaid mobile plans are even more rubbish than Australia. I really thought Telstra had the monopoly on “world’s worst Telco”, but there you go. €15 for 28 days with 1.5 paltry GB, 50 mins talk and NO SMS with Vodafone. Other options are apparently Orange and Movistar.

So, it’s been less museums and history and more bureaucracy and falling asleep on the couch at 5:30pm so far!

Viva la adventure lol.

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China. China, China, China

I’ve probably mentioned (lol) that we have found our 2 years in China difficult. However it is not the endearing little quirks the rest of the world has learned to associate with Chinese “mainlanders”: spitting, peeing, pooing in the street, lack of queuing etiquette, crazy red tape, refusing to understand our rudimentary Chinese, the noise – the constant, constant noise…that have made this a hard slog. At the end of the day the quirks are part and parcel of expat life. These are the stories we will share with family and friends long after we’ve left the Middle Kingdom. Like the morning we were walking to school and an ancient Chinese man with limited teeth fell over himself trying to leap out of the bushes to try to shake our hands. We politely declined (okay, we ran like blazes) as his other hand was still fumbling to pull up his trousers.

China plus and minusWhat has most gotten to me in China is something that has bugged me since my first stint in Ningbo in 2009: the lack of soul. The total sense of emptiness.

Yes, China has an ancient culture – but everywhere you go to try and explore it there are a billion people already lining up with matching hats and flags to trample through before you. There seems to be no interest in authenticity – ancient towns are knocked down and rebuilt to look the same but out of modern materials that require less maintenance.

It’s all about the money. That goes for the expats who come here as well as the locals.

China is the Dystopia we read about as teens.

Catching my breath

I read all these other travel blogs and they seem to capture the trials and tribulations of expat life so well. I don’t know how they manage it. When I am in the thick of decision-making – spending countless hours googling “move to France” or “Aussies in Europe + blog” and “why is homeschool illegal in Europe” – I don’t have any energy for blogging.

I also waste most of my downtime online at Instagram, Facebook & Twitter. There just isn’t time for researched ramblings.

But anyway, there are 7 weeks to go in China and I am giddy with excitement. I am so so so so SO happy to leave China. At the same time I am awfully proud of Ms10 and I for surviving 2 years here. I gaze in wonderment at expats who spend 5 or 10 years in China. Mostly the people with that sort of mileage are married to a Chinese national. OR they are here for the money.

We’re all here for the money, which is another post, and says a lot about China as a country. Even we, to an extent, came here for $$$. In fact this is probably the first decision I have made where money has been the main motivation. And let that be a lesson to you kids: Money makes you miserable! But as I keep telling my 10 year old, sometimes you have to suck it up to get where you want to go. We want to move to Europe, I have a dream to live in Scotland – and we have saved more here in the past 2 years than I saved in 10 in Australia.