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.

The unbearable sweetness of bread

We are officially in our 5th month in China. Last time we lived here (in 2009-2010) we stayed only 4 months due to some alarming issues with the school. So this is a milestone! I know a few more words of Mandarin, and I am surviving without normal bread and department stores.

I still haven’t figured out how people survive the 2 years (standard teaching contract), or how people stay 5 years or more. I like many things about China, but I can’t imagine closing the door on fresh air, wide open spaces, good coffee and decent bread for that long.

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Time has actually flown by here, and I’ve tried to figure it out. Firstly, I am full time in the library. There’s no ‘covering classes’ or filling in for teachers who don’t arrive. The staff at my previous school were all a lot older, and there was a gang of them who knew each other from home. Staff here are nearer my age, and many are single, which makes a huge difference.

Ms M is has a smaller class and has made friends who have already hosted her for sleepovers and birthday parties. This means I am meeting more parents away from school. I am also older and have been out of teaching for a while, so I have finally lost the mad idea that I cannot socialize with parents. There are so few expats in this city you can’t afford to draw those sorts of lines.

The other plus is having someone from ‘home’ visit us. My family are hopeless at this. None of them have ever lived away, so they simply have no idea how significant a visit can be. For a couple months we’ve had Ms M’s dad, and while the apartment has been cramped, we’ve had a third sidekick for our adventures in Chinese food and shopping.

 

Blue

Emerging from cultural shock fog.  Homesickness fading-ish and am overcoming (some of) my frustrations with moving to a new role that is not exactly what I expected.  It has been tricky.  Moving overseas means you not only leave behind your support networks, but you also leave behind the little things that can make your day – like a good coffee/cafe, gorgeous weekend weather at the beach, random trips into the mountains or a family BBQ.

We are not completely isolated here, but it is harder as a sole parent to assimilate.  I don’t “fit” with the couples or “proper” families (rant about that coming soon), and I can’t join the singles on their nights out because I have a child.

Some of that is set to change as Ms 9’s dad has arrived.  We’ve got a “co-parenting” experiment happening for the next 2 months (until Christmas).  It is the first time he has lived with us.  Unfortunately this school do not class sole parent families as “families” so our apartment is the same size as the single teachers (2 bedrooms).  This means 9 year old and I are sharing.  It is only temporary, and the pluses should outweigh the irritations, but it does make me grrr.

This also means I can now socialise with other staff.  It has been great to meet other people who are not at the school, and chat with random locals.

The other plus is that we now have a 3rd wheel to venture into unknown culinary territory with us.  Her dad is a chef, however, so he has spent most of the week cooking for us at home.  He is quickly learning that this is a lot more expensive than eating out and I think we will soon change his mind!

camel bar cocktail
Lovely “no-name” cocktail that turned blue as I drank…

 

‘Home’

Back to Australia for a flying visit as our Chinese visas did not arrive before we left for Europe.  Although frustrating (particularly as I am not entirely convinced HR actually applied for them when they said), it worked out for the best as we got one last catchup AND had time to pack all our stuff for storage.  To be honest, we were ready to leave Europe a couple of weeks ago and could’ve done with the extra time at home, but Qantas have made changing flights more expensive than it’s worth so it was no go.

Somebody’s happy to see us!

Boonah was completely freezing after our muggy week in Prague.  We had to go straight from the airport to Brisbane CBD to drop off our visa application docs as they take 4 working days to process.  China have vastly improved their visa application process in Brisbane.  In 2009 lined up for about 4 hours at the Consulate.  Now there is a Visa Applicant Centre on Ann Street and I waited less than 15 minutes.  The only downside was the security guy at the door who insisted on going through my paperwork even though I explained I had just got off a plane from Munich and wasn’t ready.  He grabbed it from me, then snapped at me that I needed to get more organised.  Yeah, mate, yeah.

A fraction of the stuff I've moved into mum's garage
A fraction of the stuff I’ve moved into mum’s garage

Anyway, our week flew by. After my previous experience in China where ducking home for Christmas made it impossible to resume life in China, this time I have told everyone we will not return to Australia within the first 12 months.  This makes leaving more difficult.  We dropped in on my Nanna and realised this is the first time she legitimately may not be here when we come back.  Leaving has become a lot more difficult for my daughter as she gets older.  She is really starting to feel the distance and time.

The worst part was packing up all my stuff for storage at mum’s place.  I’m not selling my car just yet because I am in love with it I am trying to pre-empt any sudden return to Australia.  I will get my brother to sell it after we’ve settled into life in China *sob*  I am also keeping Tupperware because apart from the car it is the most expensive thing I own! Fortunately all the furniture and bigger stuff we sold/gave away when we sold the house in March, so mostly we’re left with clothes, linen, toys and BOOKS, BOOKS, BOOKS!  After disasters in the past where I’ve come home to find my book collection saturated, mouldy, eaten, Mum has agreed to let me store them in the house.

Bags ready!
Bags ready!

We dropped in on my old workplace where I am a stranger already, but the new lass seems to be settling in.  Feel a lot more at ease with leaving now.  I think it is definitely time to move on.

So……….China, baby!

 

Sunny last day in Australia (Brisbane)
Sunny last day in Australia (Brisbane)

Dirty Laundry

I didn’t even get to our laundry debacle! We haven’t done any washing since we were on Skye – around the 3rd of July! We are desperate, which is one of the reasons I went with an Airbnb apartment rather than hotel. Except the washing machine has not been connected *sob*

Have found a laundry place online, but the thought of lugging it all through Prague…am hesitant to ask owners as they’ve just had a baby and seemed a bit frazzled.

Ms 8 is fine as she still has 3 pairs of clean underwear – except she pointblank refuses to wear them. Lord knows why, but even the mere suggestion produces a meltdown >sigh< Could be washing our things in the bath tonight 😁

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Relax / Move

We are on the move again after nearly 3 years in one place (my hometown, no less). In between jobs I am taking about 2 months off to visit family and friends in Scotland and Europe. It feels like years since I had this much time on my hands, or since I sat still and I am struggling to switch off. It’s been such a busy 3 years. Heck, it’s been a chaotic DECADE….with a baby, becoming a solo parent, career changing, completing my Masters…

And amidst all this I’ve been constantly on the move. I’ve just completed a federal police check, which required me to list the past 10 years of jobs and addresses. The process burned holes in my brain as I flicked through old diaries, phone messages, emails and trying to recall every single one.

It’s exhausting just looking at the list – like looking at the life of a madwoman. I’ve had about 20 addresses (and almost as many jobs) in those 10 years. No wonder my brothers disowned me when I told them I was selling my house this time.

It’s shocking to some people – especially in a small, country town where people don’t just settle but drop a mineshaft and sink their roots 30 kms below.

I’ve started psychoanalysing it, because it was a surprise to me! I have some theories, but that is for another post.

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We have bike!!

Happy days!

ningbo black bicycle

Matilda (shouting from back of bike where she was clutching on for dear life, sans helmet, sans child safety of any kind): “I LOVE THIS BIKE!”

We found a child seat that resembles a hanging basket (and sways just as much in the breeze argh!)  Sort of like this one, but with wider gaps and no padding.

ningbo child bike seat