Wednesday, March 28, 2012

What do they have in common?

I thought I come on here for a quick post and may be a brain teaser for you guys ;)
So here is the question.

What do Artical, Izellah, Guess, Louis Vuitton, Ghost, Canada, Moon, Star, Sun, Apple, Dodo, Puma, and Curtain all have in common?

I might give a hint or two later on if no one answers the question correctly.
Happy Guessing.

Friday, March 23, 2012

It's Soo Cccold! On Heating Schedule in China

November 15th and March 15th are perhaps two significant dates in Beijing. This is because the heating system is turned on on November 15 and turned off on March 15. For some residents, the dates can be a few days earlier or later. The heating system for my apartment went on exactly on November 15th and  was turned off on Mach 18th! The reason for this central date is because the heating system in the country is powered with coal, an expensive and pollution generating resource.

In some buildings such as my apartment building and my old school, the heat is barely enough. So, I have to wear a full winter gear (jacket, hat, snow boots and sometimes gloves) while teaching. The students also keep their jackets on, on top of the multiple layers they already have on. And then when I get home, I have to keep these layers on and sometimes turn my electric heater on for added comfort.

Radiators, a common heating tool in the country.

People always ask me why I complain about the cold so much since it is much colder in Canada. I always answer them with two reasons. The first being that our buildings are well insulated, so the heat stays inside, keeping you warm and toasty while indoor. And the second being that we have clear blue skies with sunshine and it sometimes snow, keeping the air moist. Winter in Beijing can feel colder that it actually is because it doesn't snow or rain much, and the skies are heavily polluted with smog, which often blocks any sunshine we could be getting. And so because of this, I am always cold, both indoor and outdoor.

Picture on the right is a typical day in the city.

Although in some apartments and buildings, the heat is turned on too high that the space feels like a sauna, so people have to open the door or window to let some heat out. Since buildings are centrally heated, many apartments don't have thermostats which allows you to control the temperature in the apartment. So while some residents have to bundle up to stay warm, others can pretend like it's summer as they lounge in their t-shirts and shorts!

So to keep warm, I will often wear up to 3layers, sleep with 2 blankets and a heating disc. Or I will drink a warm cup of tea for a temporary relief.

Now that the heat has been turned off, we all can't wait until the weather starts to warm up! But in the meantime, residents can resort to creative ways to keep warm. These includes sitting on heated pads, sleeping in electric blankets, heated mattress pads and discs, drinking hot soups and tea, wearing multiple layers even when indoor, doing jumping jacks every once in a while and for many locals, taking a shower only once or twice in a week! Yikes!

And if you have the extra cash, just turn on the "heat" function of your AC to warm up the place up!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Trip to the Pearl Market

Spring is here! Meaning summer is just around the corner. To prepare for this colorful season, I headed to the Pearl Market,  to pick up some silk scarfs. I know what you thinking, "You went to the PEARL market to get SILK scarves? Why not just go to the SILK market to buy your silk scarves?" Well, the truth is, both markets sells the same stuff. Infact, only the top floor of these markets sells what they are famously known for. For instance, only the top floor of the pearl market actually sells pearls, same thing with the silk market. 
On my way to work, also happened to my last day

Personally, I prefer the Pearl market because it's less crowded and stuff are cheaper. Plus, I have vendors that I go to regularly, so they know i'm not a tourist and there's no point wasting time trying to rip me off.  And finally, I find there are more SILK scarves with a wider variety and cheaper prices than the silk market itself! 

Anyway, these are the items I got! I plan to wear these scarves in as many different styles I can think of.

1st Vendor
A multipurpose large square scarf: 60RMB

I spent about 15min haggling for the prices of these two scarves it was ridiculous, but well worth it :)
Triangle scarf: 55RMB
I plan to wear this scarf around the neck mostly or may be as a head wrap.

2nd Vendor
I also bought 5 smaller square scarves from another Vendor for 10RMB each. These scarves will mostly be worn as a head wrap, around the neck or as a blouse ;)

I sometimes use these scarves as a pillow case, love the silky feeling!

3rd Vendor
I bought two traditional handmade pouches to hold my cellphone and/or camera.
Price: 5RMB each

4th Vendor
I later headed to the top floor where pearls and other precious stones and jewelries are sold. The total price for the 11 pieces is 100RMB.

Jeweleries Galore!

 Now I can't wait for the weather to start warming up!

Friday, March 16, 2012

HOTW 1: Hair of the Week 1

This will be one of the many weekly posts I will be posting on how I wear my hair for the week.

I recently started styling my own hair back in January when I put myself on a 6 months DIY (do it yourself)  challenge. This means from January to June, I will be the only hairstylist for my hair. This will allow me to get to know my own hair on a personal level, put to practice, different black hair practices I read about and to give my hair a break from extensions. This will break a record I set for myself last summer when I wore my hair out for 4months straight, without visiting a salon!  See, I never knew what to do with my hair when it was relaxed, so I would always go "get my hair done" days after taking one style out.

Accidental asymmetric up-do.
I  hope to improve my hair styling skills and creativity by the end of the 6months challenge. Last Spring, I bought an Asian mannequin on my visit to Hong Kong for me to practice hair braiding. However, this mannequin ended up being useless as the hair is very slippery and silky, nothing like black hair at all, natural or relaxed! So I guess I will have to use my own head for practicing instead.

When are you going to do your hair? 
At the women's fellowship this week, a sister from Uganda asked me when I was going to do my hair. I got confused a bit because I thought my hair was already DONE. She then asked me when I was going to put extensions in or get Locs like another sister from Mozambique. I was completely thrown off by this question because I never thought getting a hair done meant putting extensions in the hair.

But then I thought, "Oh yea, only kids, village girls or religious extremist style their hair without using additional hair pieces"
Anyway, my response to this woman's question was that my hair was already done and I don't want to put extensions in my hair because they make my hair dry. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Why I Hate Shopping in China

Some blog posts ago, I blogged about how I get some hard to find or heavy items in the easiest and most convenient way possible. I also mentioned I will be posting on why I hate shopping in the PRC (People's Republic of China). So here it goes.

1. Things are EXPENSIVE. Yes, capitalized and bolded. The assumption abroad is that "everything is cheap" in China because everything is "Made in China". But the reality is, if it's made in China by a Foreign company, it is automatically considered "luxury" goods, which is then heavily taxed. Although, you can get locally made knock out version of these items for a fraction of the real item's price but do not expect the item to last long.
$627CAD iPhone

2. Everything is in Chinese. You will be lucky to find a China-made product with English on it. I can't even remember how many times I've picked up the wrong products thinking they were something else. Now, I try to seek out the few products with some English on it or simply order the specific item online with the help of a translator.
There is a Chinese brand Oreo as well, so you have to look really closely to make sure you pick up the right one
3. Food Safety is very low. Due to the demand to meet the needs of such large population, coupled with corruption, this means many products often go unchecked. Some food companies have been caught selling expired products, tainted baby foods, glow in the dark porks, exploding watermelons, as well as foods mixed with inks, hormones, dyes, wax, bleaches and other crap! So because of this, I often opt for the more expensive imported food items when I can. I buy imported Milk exclusively and I wish I could buy imported Chicken too because I have been noticing a taste difference in the Chicken I've been buying as of late. 
Explosive melons anyone?
How about expired milk?
4. It can be hard to find stuff. I have been shopping online more often lately, to save myself the headache of trying to find items such as women's hair removal cream in stores. And when you do find these hard to find items in stores, you might not be given a choice. 

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Happy Women's Day

Google's Doodle on IWD (International Women's Day)
San Ba Jie Kuai le ( Happy March 8th) or Fu Nu Jie Kuai Le (Happy Women's Day) to all the women and girls out there So how important is Women's day in China?  Very important that it is a National Holiday, at least for women. Many employers will give the women staff half a day off to go enjoy being a woman. But if you happen to work in a female dominated profession such as teaching, you unfortunately can't get off work early. Instead, you can enjoy presents and a small cash which employers give to their female staff every year. At my school, the female teachers were given a box of Tiramisu cake and 100RMB (Chinese currency) on the day before. And today, we got milk tea and a bag of french fries for lunch. My favorite of all those gifts is of course the money!  I also noticed women around town with a bouquet of flowers which I assume they got from their workplace. 

Chinese Women in the Air Force
In a country with a disproportionate male:female ratio, I think IWD is an important step to inform the population about the importance of women in the society (so stop killing those baby girls!). It is also a day for all female to be proud of their accomplishments whether it be big or small. And lastly, a day for all men in the country to appreciate the presence of women in the society.  
Women Judges on March 8th
Although the actual meaning of the holiday has been overshadowed by commercialism where stores hold promotions on women's products. Infact today, a beauty consultant gave me her business card while I was waiting for my train at the subway station.  She told me to give her a call if I need makeup or any beauty product, as if she will have my match.  IWD is also a semi valentines day in China where men show their affection and appreciation to the women in their lives (that is their mother, wife, girlfriend, sister and daughter) by buying them little presents. 

Women giving a performance to celebrate san ba (march 8th)
As Beyonce would ask " Who run the world?.....GIRLS!" Ahhh, too bad the song was recently blacklisted in country :( Anyway, I hope all you girls out there enjoyed your day.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

How I Climb Over The Great Firewall

Also known as the GFW of China or the Golden Shield Project,  the GFW is the infamous internet censorship used by the government to filter and control "sensitive" information that might harm state security. Examples of sensitive information includes any article about Police brutality, Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, freedom of speech, democracy, Dalai Lama, Falun Gong and of course pornography.

On Thursday evening, at my Adults class,  I held a debate about this issue, with the topic being "Should the Internet be Censored?" We read this article about internet censorship and this other article on  how Chinese Netizens are "climbing over" the wall. The Majority thinks Internet should not be censored.  To support her argument, one of the student mentioned that she barely reads the Chinese BBC website; instead, she reads the original BBC UK website for a more reliable news source. She also said that she had to close her Weibo account (Chinese Twitter) due to recent privacy changes on the website which requires all users to provide their personal identification in order to keep their current account. This means that one has to be careful of they communicate online since they are no longer anonymous. 

So, how do I get to go on facebook, google, youtube, blogger and other blocked websites daily despite the GFW? Well, I use what is called a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to hide my IP address and make me anonymous on the net. There are many internet companies which provides this freedom to people living in countries with censored internet. 

One can choose to use a free or paid service. I used a free VPN my first time in China, as I found it difficult to pay to use Facebook and YouTube back then. And also because I was only in the country for 6months. But I was later forced to go with a paid service my second time here. This period also happened to be around the same time as the political unrest in North Africa. Internet surfing around this period was very frustrating because the government tightened the internet even much more then to prevent chaos amongst its people. . More and more websites started to become inaccessible and VPNs suddenly stopped working for many. You could say expats in the country were crippled for a while. Luckily, I was referred to a less popular and affordable VPN service which wasn't blocked.   

VPNs can also be used by people living in "free" countries. For example, many American movie streaming websites are not available to Canadians due to copyright issues. But with an American IP address (which you get from a VPN service), you can enjoy sites such as Hulu just like any other American surfing the web from the U.S. 

Without a VPN, I would get this window each time I try to surf any blocked website. But with less than $10/month, I get to enjoy the internet just like I was back home and best of all, keep this awesome blog:)