No Pain, No Gain?

In my seemingly never-ending quest to conquer/lessen/tolerate the back pain I’ve been experiencing for more than a year, I’ve tried many things.  Rest, exercise, back braces, pills, tinctures, herbal patches, chiropractic cracking, even sleeping without a mattress for the last 10 months.  (As an aside, no, the pain hasn’t gone away, and yes, I would welcome any medical professionals who would tell me what the problem is and fix it.)

One of the latest experiments was one my husband suggested and bought for me.

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This speedbump-esque thing plugs in, and when a person lays on it, the silver parts heat up and tiny electric currents stimulate the muscles, which are supposed to help strengthen them, I think.

I was skeptical when he arrived home with it a few months ago, but in the spirit of desperately trying anything to get rid of this pain, I gave it a go.

“What do I need to do?” I asked him.

“Just lie on the machine with your head going this way and use this remote to control how high you want the setting.  Take your sweater off, but leave your T-shirt on so it doesn’t burn you,” he replied.

And so I did.  Since all the packaging is in Chinese, I had to just trust my husband and follow his orders.IMG_1121

Other than the heat, I didn’t feel very much from these supposed electric currents.  Did it do much of anything for my back?  Not noticeably, but it did help to stretch the muscles out, and the heat sure felt nice during those early spring days (you know the ones – after they shut off our building heat but before the weather is actually nice).

Obediently, I continued to use this machine every night for a number of weeks(hey, it’s a good way to relax and do nothing for half an hour each night, if nothing else), taking a break for a few days when my husband ordered.  Once in a while, I would voice my concern about not really being able to feel anything while using it, or any real effects, but I was almost always silenced with “Not everything has to hurt to do something, you know!”  (This coming from a man whose culture believes that medicine is not effective unless it tastes horrendous).

Then one day, my husband decided that he should read the instructions.  I know, I don’t know what brought it on either, but it happened.  He came to that conclusion all by himself.  I tried not to make a big deal out of it.  Male egos and such.

So anyway, it turns out, I shouldn’t have been wearing my T-shirt at all – skin should be in direct contact with those silver areas (I wanted to say, “It’s sure interesting what one can learn by reading instructions, isn’t it?!” but I bit my tongue).

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Well, now that machine felt like it might be trying to accomplish something!  The currents are pretty low – just enough to make the muscles vibrate – and I still don’t notice much in the way of measurable relief from the pain, but that may also be because none of the contact points are located anywhere near where I have the most pain in my back and hips.  But at least we’ve got some kind of action going on!

And after nearly a year of my husband being respectfully doubtful of the amount of pain I’ve been enduring and trying to smile through (that’s right, dear, the gig is up.  I knew), I think he’s finally caught on.  Why do I think that?

Because he has used this machine a few times as well when his back is feeling sore and achy.  And he sets the intensity level around 10, seeming uncomfortable the entire time.  In fact, he lets out a long, relieved “Whew!” when the session finally times out.

But when I use it?  At level 10, I can barely feel a tickle.  Want to guess what level I use?  Go ahead.

On average, I set it at level 25, and lately even up to 30, and it feels comfortable for me.

My husband no longer makes any faces or remarks about my pain tolerance being low, that’s for sure.  One for my win column – now if I could just figure out the back pain!

Posted in Personal, Things My Husband Says | Tagged , , , , , , | 25 Comments

What I Won’t Miss When We Move

No, it isn’t finished yet.  The new house, I mean.  We’re working on it, but these things take time.  And knowing how renovations go in Canada, I’m certainly not setting a time limit for it to be finished here in China, land of the 4 hour work day.

So don’t get all excited and ask for pictures.  I’ve just been thinking a lot lately, getting antsy, and noticing all the little things around here that I will be glad to be rid of once we finally move.

Like what, you ask?

Let’s start with the wallpaper.  You’ve seen pictures before, but here it is again, just to refresh your memory.

In all it's eye-searing glory...

In all it’s eye-searing glory…

That’s right.  The yellow daisy print covers two walls in our current living room.  I suppose it might not be so bad if it were hung properly (it’s not) or if it even covered the entirety of those two walls (it doesn’t – the previous renters who hung it didn’t bother to extend it behind where they had placed the TV table. Thank goodness our sectional sofa covers it.).

And the pink and grey flower print covers almost every surface in our bedroom.  And I mean every surface…almost.  It covers the walls, it covers the wooden box that encloses the radiator (most of it, at least), and it even covers the outlet and light switch covers.  The one thing it doesn’t cover?  The wall behind the wardrobe (it’s a good thing we didn’t want to rearrange our furniture).  Oh, and my husband reports that when you come home drunk from a work dinner and lay on our bed, the flowers actually take on a 3D quality and bring about nausea, so that’s nice.

Or not.  Sayanara, wallpaper.

I also won’t miss the garbage around this place.  Seriously, China can be dirty sometimes, but our area of our residential zone takes it to a new level.  I’ve never seen the amount of garbage laying around the new zone anytime I’ve been there to visit the house, nor is the stairwell clogged with people’s garbage.  And I’ve certainly never seen this in the new stairwell.

That would be a dirty diaper in the window of my stairwell. Thanks, neighbours!

That would be a dirty diaper in the window of my stairwell. Thanks, neighbours!

Not only is there garbage strewn about, but this is the view from my kitchen window of our current house.IMG_1111

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Those piles of junk?  They’re the neighbourhood “recyclers’” collections and they are there all the time.  These elderly people peddle around the zone on their tricycles, going through all the garbage bins, emptying all the bags.  They pick out cans and bottles and boxes and wood and old shoes and goodness-knows-what-else to recycle.  Each person seems to pick out different things.  When their cart is full, they bring it back here, outside their apartments (and mine) to sort and pile until the day they decide to take it all down to wherever the recycling place is.  Now, recycling is not bad, but having to look out and see piles upon piles of it in what is essentially your backyard everyday?  Not nice.

So long, excess rubbish.

Next on the list is a little something I’m calling “the random old man who stands outside bellering at people”.  Now, to be fair, I’m betting that every residential zone has one of these people, but I’m also hoping that in the new zone, he doesn’t live in my building.  Because he does now.  And you might think I’m kidding or exaggerating with the name I gave him, but I’m not.  At least three times a week, usually early in the morning, but sometimes in the afternoons as well, this man heads outside and stands around angrily shouting things at people.  I don’t know what he’s going on about, I don’t know if anyone even understands him, and I certainly don’t know why no one even attempts to stop him.  I just know I’ll be glad to not wake up to his voice anymore or have to try to tiptoe unnoticed into my building after work so as not to attract his attention.

In addition to this man, I will also be a little happy to get away from the people who live in our stairwell who appear to lock their elderly mother/grandmother in their house.  It’s probably for her own safety to keep her from wandering off, but listening to her pounding on the inside of the door to be let out is just depressing.

Oh, and another lady I’ll be glad to be rid of is “the deaf woman whose dog barks non-stop every time she takes it out for a walk, which is twice a day”.  I don’t know for a fact that she’s deaf, but I figure she must be, given the amount of constant yapping this dog does and that she doesn’t make any attempt to quiet it.

Adios, noisy neighbours (though yes, I’m certain that these will simply be replaced by new people).

Inside the house, there are a few things I’ll be happy to leave behind as well.  Like the hot water heater that doesn’t work half the time.  I’m really hoping I am going to be able to revamp my current shower routine, which goes like this:  go to kitchen, turn on hot water heater, guesstimate temperature setting, go to bathroom, turn on water, listen to see if hot water heater sparks, turn water on and off repeatedly until the heater does spark, wait 2-3 minutes, test water temperature, walk to kitchen and make temperature adjustments, walk back to bathroom, wait 2 minutes and test water again, remove clothing, get into shower, cleanse self, turn water off when hit with cold water because the hot water heater disengaged because it has been running for too long, turn water on and off again hoping it will start, wrap self in towel and tiptoe awkwardly to kitchen while dripping wet and covered in soap to attempt to fix the problem when hot water heater doesn’t start again…and so on.  You get the picture.  And it’s even more fun when it’s the dead of winter, considering that my kitchen doesn’t have heat.

Ciao, hot water heater.  I hope you die a slow and horrible death, not unlike the fax machine in “Office Space”.

*cue angry gangsta rap*

*cue angry gangsta rap*

How about mould?  Anyone here a fan of mould?  Am I going to offend anyone by saying that I really won’t miss the thin layer of mould covering our kitchen ceiling and spare bedroom windowsill?  Good.  Because that’s only the visible stuff I know about.  And yes, we have tried to clean it – that only takes away the stuff on the surface temporarily.  It is still inside the plaster and after a bit of time, it grows out again.

The other, more fungus-like tenants of our current apartment. Oh, and the hot water heater and range hood vents through too-large holes in the windows which let cold air in during the winter and make my unheated kitchen even colder.

The other, more fungus-like tenants of our current apartment. Oh, and the hot water heater and range hood vents through too-large holes in the windows which let cold air in during the winter and make my unheated kitchen even colder.

Goodbye, disease-causing mould.  It’s not you, it’s me (well, no, actually it is you).

I bet you never even stop to appreciate how nice it is to have closets, right?  Well, I do.  Because I don’t have them.  And I don’t have enough shelves or cupboards or places to put things away in this house either, which means that most of our things are left out on display for anyone who visits to see (as in “Hey, that’s a real nice-looking pile of medicine you guys have got there.  It looks especially nice next to the two half-used rolls of tape and three baseball caps.”).  We’ve already crammed all of the suitcases we own full and we keep, fill, and stack sturdy boxes as much as we can.  But a large assortment of my husband’s shorts are still just stacked on his nightstand, because our wardrobe isn’t big enough for two people.  So actually having the space to get some furniture with shelves and doors and to put things away is going to be a real treat.

Because this is what my spare bedroom looks like now. And yes, the cupboard is crammed full already.

Because this is what my spare bedroom looks like now. And yes, the cupboard is crammed full already.

Peace out, lack of storage.

The one place in China where I can get away from the constant smell of cigarettes should be my own house, right?  Nope.  Not because my husband smokes (he doesn’t, thank goodness).  As a result of shoddy construction in the first place and the zone management having replaced the heating pipes a couple years ago without plugging the old holes, my neighbours’ smoke wafts into our bedroom.  It produces a really lovely scent, especially if I’ve done laundry that day and have the door open to our sun room where we hang our clothes to dry so it can combine with that fresh laundry smell.

Cough, cough, au revoir, tobacco-scented everything.

I know that I am very lucky to work for a school that has always found a place for me to live and ensured that there were furnishings for me to use, so don’t think I’m ungrateful there.  But it will be nice to have our own place and our own things, and not to have to host workers from the school’s office once a year while they do inventory on the items in the house (translation: check on the school-owned items to make sure I’m not trashing them, and poke around and see what kind of things I own myself so they can gossip about it all later).  Especially when they report to me that there is a “white shelf” missing, but I have no idea what they are talking about because there has never ever been a white shelf in my house.

Farewell, nosy inventory-takers who want to count to ensure that there really are the provided 24 chopsticks.

If the rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain, where does the rain in China mainly fall?  In my current residential zone, that’s where.  China struggles to comprehend drainage at the best of times, but whoever designed our zone really dropped the ball.  Even the Chinese people who live around here think it’s a bit much, as evidenced by the young boys who referred to the almost perpetual large puddle around the corner as ‘Lake Guang Sha’ (the name of our zone).  Thanks to this, each time it rains more than a sprinkling, I get to slosh through about six inches of floodwater for the extent of my 5 minute walk to reach the gate and catch the van to school.  I will admit that I got smart about this early last summer and bought some rubber boots, which I now faithfully wear when it rains, no matter how stupid I might look (at least when I arrive at school, my pants aren’t soaked to the hips anymore!).

My pants- and shoes-saving rubber boots! With bonus wallpaper-covered radiator cover in the background. See! I told you they covered it almost entirely.

My pants- and shoes-saving rubber boots! With bonus wallpaper-covered radiator cover in the background. See! I told you they covered it almost entirely.

Ta ta, floodwaters.  Time to ruin someone else’s shoes now.

And finally, lest you think my time spent living here was all bad, there is one thing I have realized I will miss quite a bit.

You see, one of the older men in a nearby building keeps songbirds.  He’s one of the guys you see peddling his tricycle with a couple of birds in cages on the back, taking them out for a stroll.  They hang in his sun room, or just outside, or sometimes even in the trees outside the building, and the birds sing away, especially in the mornings.  It almost sounds like nature.  And I will miss that little bit of nature here in the middle of a Chinese city.

I kind of hope that one of my new neighbours has some.

(I also wrote a guest post a while ago where I listed a few things I liked about my neighbourhood, just as further proof that it hasn’t all been horrible.  You can read that here.)

Posted in Things Other People Do | Tagged , , , | 16 Comments

For What Ails You: Chinese Medicine

I’ve written a bit before about being sick in China – how to tell if you’re in a Chinese hospital, and the constant fight I face in trying to convince people that allergies and colds are not the same thing.  But how do Chinese people deal with being sick?  Well I’m glad you asked.

Disclaimer:  I know nothing about Chinese medicine in depth, only what I’ve picked up from living here and people telling me things.  I do not study or practice it.  If you’re looking for reliable information, you won’t find very much here.  The following simply details my own experiences and opinions relating to it.  Spoiler alert:  It’s sarcastic and not particularly positive.  I’ve actually been told that I really have to believe in the treatments for them to work, but if that’s the case, then the entire thing is based on the placebo effect, and that seems like a dicey way to approach human health.  If you’re going to leave me nasty comments saying I just don’t understand…well, you’re probably right, I don’t, and I likely never will totally understand (also, I’ll point out that at least I’ve tried some of these before making my own conclusion about them).  So stop reading now.  You’ve been warned.

First of all, we need to understand exactly what Chinese people think causes illness.  From what I’ve heard, people here believe illness to be due to having too much or too little of something in one’s body.  But what is that ‘something’?  Germs?  Bacteria?  Viruses?  Nope.

Usually it’s because you’ve got wind in your stomach or too much fire in you.

That’s right.  Wind.  And fire.  Totally scientific and legit, huh?

They also tend to avoid the hard questions, such as “But if I have wind in my stomach, how did it get there?  Isn’t a hole in my abdomen opening into my stomach a) a fairly serious problem, and b) wouldn’t I have noticed it by now?” or “If I have so much fire in me, why am I still absolutely freezing, even though I’ve closed the windows you opened and am wearing seven layers of long underwear indoors?”

You see, China still relies on a lot of old-school beliefs about illness – stuff that might have a tiny bit of truth, but in reality isn’t totally correct scientifically.  Like the old “don’t go out with wet hair or you’ll catch a cold” myth.  While most of us westerners understand this to mean that going out with wet hair makes you cold and weakens your body, making it unable to fight off infections from germs that you may encounter, which leads to you getting sick, Chinese people have insisted to me that it is a direct link.  Even my mother-in-law, a doctor who does bloodwork, often shows very little recognition of viruses and bacteria as causes for illness.

Anyway, so now that you’ve got this wind in your stomach or fire in you, and you’re sick, what are your treatment options?  It is true that western medicine has come to China – antibiotics are borderline abused here (not surprising considering that one can buy them over the counter at any local pharmacy), and antibiotic IVs are many doctors’ go-to prescription now (especially because they cost more, earning the clinic or hospital more money).

Remember this medicine I took? My boss had to present her national ID card in order to purchase it. Must be something strong in there!

Remember this medicine I took? My boss had to present her national ID card in order to purchase it. Must be something strong in there!

But if you’re not going to go this route (or if you’re like me and are allergic to some penicillin but not all, and are a bit wary of the Russian roulette approach to perhaps having a lethal reaction to medication), here are some things you might try:

Herbal medicines – Many OTC medications here are made from herbs and plants.  I’ve taken many for many different ailments over my years here, with varying results.  Some seem to work fine, others not at all, and you often have to take massive doses – think handfuls of pills, multiple times daily.  Also, they seem to be very, very slow to start working most of the time, and you have to take the medicine for a long period of time.  I’ve also noticed that almost none of them have ever done anything to alleviate my symptoms.

I had to take this, three times a day, for almost a month.

I had to take this, three times a day, for almost a month.

Many of these are pills or liquids, though they can come in other forms.  Faithful readers might recall the herbal plaster prescribed to me for my back around this time last year.  My review of it?  It was smelly, itchy, pulled all the hair out (it was like a BandAid from hell), made the skin under it break out in a rash, and some of the plaster got all over my clothes and still won’t come out.  Oh, and it had seemingly no effect on my back.

The terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad herbal plaster patch.

The terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad herbal plaster patch.

Traditional Chinese medicine – AKA, the assortment of various plants, animal parts, and goodness-only-knows-what-other-stuff (you know, like bear bile and deer penis and so on) that a doctor measures into a paper envelope and that you’re supposed to boil into what most people tell me is the world’s nastiest (looking/smelling/tasting) tea and drink.  I’ve never had this.  I’m absolutely OK with never having had this.

A traditional Chinese medicine cabinet in a local pharmacy. Many drawers, all labelled with what's in them. The doctor will decide what you need, and measure out the combination of ingredients for you.

A traditional Chinese medicine cabinet in a local pharmacy. Many drawers, all labelled with what’s in them. The doctor will decide what you need, and measure out the combination of ingredients for you.

Old wives tales-type treatments – You’ll probably encounter these kinds of things within a Chinese family setting.  For instance, if my stomach feels uncomfortable, my husband will often brew up a ‘tea’ of water, sugar, and ginger and make me drink it.  It’s sort of like when your mom made you eat chicken soup as a kid (which, by the way, Chinese people think is an absolutely insane treatment for illness, so it’s a two-way street).

My mother-in-law has also taken it further by chopping up ginger and mashing it into my belly button to settle my stomach (maybe that’s where the hole is where the wind keeps getting in?).  And when the ginger/sugar tea and ginger in my belly button didn’t work, she did the following:  told me to relax and that what she was about to do wouldn’t hurt, squeezed my fingers (except the middle one) from tip to hand, followed by tightly squeezing whatever she was pushing up into my middle finger toward the tip, stabbed me in the knuckle of my middle finger with a needle and squeezed out some liquid (I suspect it may have been bone marrow – that’s how deep it felt).  She thinks it cured me, since I got up the next morning and my stomach felt better, but I never told her that about an hour after she did that, I threw up and only then did my stomach settle (shhh, don’t tell her).  Oh, and she lied to me – it did hurt…a lot (and she gets a big kick out of threatening to do it again anytime I’m ever feeling the teensiest bit under the weather).

Gua Sha – In this traditional practice, an oil is rubbed on the skin and then a hard piece of plastic (like a comb without the teeth) is dragged over and over and over across your skin, scraping it off, leaving you with red scrapes and sometimes even open wounds.  Supposedly the areas that are the darkest or open and bleeding are where you are the most sick.  I’ve had it done on my back a few times (my husband and I have done it to each other at home).  In my opinion, if you’re looking for a rough massage that could leave you with some scabs, then gua sha is for you; but if you’re looking to treat an actual illness, I’ll tell you that I’ve never noticed any effect.  In my case, the darkest marks coincided with my spine and shoulder blades (but I’m sure that the fact that there is significantly less flesh there as an explanation as to why those areas are more irritated has never occurred to anyone).

My back after my husband did some gua sha on me. Isn't that the outline of my spine and ribcage? No, that's just where I'm the most sick (sarcasm).

My back after my husband did some gua sha on me. Isn’t that the outline of my spine and ribcage? No, that’s just where I’m the most sick (sarcasm).

Perhaps more distressingly, my husband does a variation of this on himself when he has a sore throat or cough.  He uses his index and middle finger knuckles to squeeze and pull the skin covering his Adam’s apple out, so forcefully that when the skin comes out from between his fingers, the fingers snap together.  He repeats it over and over until he has a vertical black bruise on the front of his neck.  He says it helps increase circulation to the area and helps it heal faster.  My verdict?  I’m calling complete BS on this one – he did it this spring and two weeks later was still coughing and hacking up stuff…the only difference was that he was doing it while sporting a big bruise on his neck.

Cupping – This one has made it to some corners of the west, so you may have heard of it.  In this, the oxygen is burned out of a glass jar or cup which is then placed quickly on the skin, creating a vacuum and sucking the skin up and into the jar.  It is supposed to draw out toxins.  I’ve had it done a few times, and my husband and I do practice it at home from time to time.  My take on it is that it is a bit of a weird feeling, but not bad or painful, kind of relaxing and massage-like once the jars are all placed.  But again, I don’t think it accomplished much in the way of treating an illness or even alleviating symptoms.  Like in gua sha, supposedly the darkest marks are the locations where you are the most sick.  The first time I had this done was while I had a bad cough/chest infection.  They used the super dark mark on my chest as proof I was really sick there – duh, I’d already been diagnosed…and also because that area has no flesh, just skin and bone.

I'll probably never do cupping during the summer.

I’ll probably never do cupping during the summer.

The mark on the center of my chest. SO sore.

The mark on the center of my chest. SO sore.

Acupuncture – Strangely enough, the most well-known Chinese medical treatment in the west is pretty darned hard to find here (at least in my neck of the woods).  My husband actually told me he didn’t think it was Chinese.  I’ve since heard of one acquaintance of a co-worker’s wife who does it, but the co-worker isn’t sure if he practices it professionally or just stabs people with really thin needles as a hobby (I’m hoping the former, sheesh).  I also think I saw it on a sign we passed in the hallway of one of the hospitals here in town.  Needless to say, I’ve never had it.  I’d be willing to try it – I mean, from the above you can see that I’ll try just about anything once.

Wait!  Don’t fret!!  There is one miracle cure that any Chinese, from doctors to regular Zhou’s on the street will prescribe to you that treats any and all problems, from headaches to toothaches to the flu to a cold to cancer to ingrown toenails.

What is it? you inquire earnestly.

I had an ingrown toenail last week and really could have used this advice then, you’re thinking.

Why isn’t such earth-shattering information made public? you desperately plead.

Never fear – I’m here to break the silence.

THE cure-all for any and all ailments, according to Chinese people?

Drink hot water.

(And yes, I know that drinking water is good for keeping yourself healthy, and that keeping hydrated is recommended for several illnesses, but somehow I doubt it’s going to cure hepatitis or repair broken bones.  Eye roll.  Also, yes, it must be hot – cold water will actually make you sick according to a lot of folks here.)

Posted in Things I Do, Things My Husband Says, Things Other People Do, Things Other People Say | Tagged , , , , | 38 Comments

Sneak Peek: Our New House

As most of you already know, my husband and I bought a house earlier this year and have recently been busy renovating it before we move in…and if you didn’t know that, well, you do now.

If you’ve ever done any renovations yourself, then you know how much fun they can be (and yes, you do detect some sarcasm in my voice).  But now I want you to factor in a language barrier, cultural differences (apparently after the renovations are finished and before we can move in, we have to set off fireworks inside the new house…which seems to defeat the purpose of trying to clean the place and freshen paint and everything, but what can I do?), and the fact that I live in a small, backwoods town in a country that decorates their houses about as well as a cat plays Scrabble.  Choices are somewhat limited here, one could say.  Fun, huh?

Progress has been made in the new house, though.  The kitchen and both bathrooms were torn out, and then refinished with tiles.  Kitchen cupboards and ceilings should be next, as well as bathroom fixtures, and then some paint and furniture.

But, my dear readers, you’re in luck!  I know you’ve been wondering, so you’re actually going to get a sneak peek into our new house right now.  Hold onto your hats and enjoy!

This is going to be the floor in our house. Because I'd like all of our guests to be in a constant state of dizziness - they won't overstay their welcome that way.

This is going to be the floor in our house. Because I’d like all of our guests to be in a constant state of dizziness – they won’t overstay their welcome that way.

The kitchen is going to be tiled entirely in durian-printed tiles, like the one in the top right corner. We're also going to use the fruit border pieces, just to break it up a bit.

The kitchen is going to be tiled entirely in durian-printed tiles, like the one in the top right corner. We’re also going to use the fruit border pieces, just to break it up a bit.

Ignore my dad making dumplings. We're going to have bright orange cupboards with green countertops, as an homage to my in-laws' home.

Ignore my dad making dumplings. We’re going to have bright orange cupboards with green countertops, as an homage to my in-laws’ home.

In the bathrooms, I can't decide between the bright orange tub and the bright purple one.

In the bathrooms, I can’t decide between the bright orange tub and the bright purple one.

I mean, the orange one has a matching toilet with armrests. But then there is also pink...or yellow with black racing stripes.

I mean, the orange one has a matching toilet with armrests. But then there is also pink…or yellow with black racing stripes.

The yellow one even has a matching sink. Man, it's getting hard to choose.

The yellow one even has a matching sink. Man, it’s getting hard to choose.

Onto the living room, where we plan to make it imposing with a lot of wood and brocade chairs, and maybe even a portrait of a guy we don't know.

Onto the living room, where we plan to make it imposing with a lot of wood and brocade chairs, and maybe even a portrait of a guy we don’t know.

Also, as many patterns and accessories as possible.

Also, as many patterns and accessories as possible.

All the lamps in our house with either be life-sized horses...

All the lamps in our house with either be life-sized horses…

...or these.

…or these.

All the tables will come with pigs attached to their underside, of course.

All the tables will come with pigs attached to their underside, of course.

And our bed will be the biggest one I've ever seen.

And our bed will be the biggest one I’ve ever seen.

And finally, I've vowed to track down a place that sells the wallpapers from our current rental. And if I'm very lucky, I'll be able to put them up so that they meet at a corner, like they do now.

And finally, I’ve vowed to track down a place that sells the wallpapers from our current rental. And if I’m very lucky, I’ll be able to put them up so that they meet at a corner, like they do now.

And yes, all of that was a lie – you didn’t really think I was going to let you see it before it’s all finished, did you?!

Posted in Personal, Renovating in China | Tagged , , , | 12 Comments

Things I Can Apparently Get Away With, Because I’m a Foreigner: Part 5

Annoying my neighbours.

And apparently, my husband also earns this privilege by proxy.

Not that I do this on purpose.  I would never do that…

What do I mean by this, you ask?

Well, it seems that the neighbours in our new building are lining up to meet me when we finally finish the work on the house and move in.  Because having a foreign neighbour is still something to be pretty darned excited about in this neck of the woods.

Renovating a house anywhere is a loud, drawn-out, dirty affair, but in China, where the apartments are crammed together, you just can’t avoid affecting others with the work that you’re doing.  And it pretty much affects the entire building.  Earlier this year, one of the neighbours in our current building renovated their house, and thanks to the building being constructed of solid concrete, the jackhammering actually shook things off our walls…and their apartment is four floors down from us, one entrance over, and on the opposite side of the stairwell.  Impressive, no?

Bags of renovation waste piled in our "dining room" and a thick layer of fine dust everywhere. Thank goodness my mother-in-law cleaned the house, huh?!

Bags of renovation waste piled in our “dining room” and a thick layer of fine dust everywhere. Thank goodness my mother-in-law cleaned the house, huh?!

Thankfully, it is usually my husband’s domain to deal with the people who knock on the door to complain.  And complain they do.

When the workers arrived to begin demolishing the kitchen and bathrooms with their power tools (as mentioned the other week), at least two different families sent representatives up to protest, saying they were starting too early in the morning…because 8:00am is too early for a country that gets up to do tai chi in the local squares at 6:00am, apparently (eye roll).  It seems that these people aren’t familiar with the saying, “Make hay while the sun shines.”

It is actually a very good thing that my husband is the one to deal with all of them, not just because of the language, but because, as you can see above, I would have very little patience or sympathy for disturbing most of these people since a) no one has ever shown me much consideration for the same type of things here, b) we aren’t doing anything out of the ordinary when it comes to renovations, and c) I believe in putting in a solid full day’s work, starting early and working all day instead of taking 4 hour naps at lunch.

Sometimes, the neighbours have had a legitimate beef with us, though.  Like the first floor tenants whose kitchen ceiling we may or may not have put a hole in with a piece of brick when hammering out a new hole in the chimney to vent our range hood (well, a worker did the actual hammering, and it’s not our fault they chose to close up the chimney at their ceiling instead of utilizing it, but…).  Whoops.  According to my husband, the heavy-set husband (clad in a tank top and thick gold chain, by the way, just for a visual) immediately came charging upstairs like a bull, red in the face and ready for a fight.  Fair enough – I’d behave the same way if a brick suddenly came crashing through my ceiling unannounced too.

This is what a bathroom in China looks like when waiting for the walls to be tiled.

This is what a bathroom in China looks like when waiting for the walls to be tiled.

My husband, however, has developed an effective game plan for dealing with all manner of neighbourly complaints.

Step 1 – Be really, really, really friendly.

Step 2 – Apologize to them.  Profusely.

Step 3 – Get invited to their house to assess the noise and/or damage.  Compliment them a lot on how nice their house is, regardless of the truth of the statement.

Step 4 – Find something in common with them (like working at the same company or having similar hobbies).  Talk long enough to pretty much make them forget about their complaints.

Step 5 – When given the invitation to return with his wife at a later date, conspiratorially confide in them that his wife is actually a foreigner, and that it’s OK to tell them that since we’re all going to be neighbours and everything.

Step 6 – Bask in the positive response that brings and watch any remaining bad feelings disappear.

See?  Solid proof that being a foreigner cancels out any annoyances I may cause my neighbours (well, all the apologizing might help, too).

Posted in Renovating in China, Things I Can Apparently Get Away With Because I'm a Foreigner | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Please Pardon My Sniffling

Achoo!

It starts with all the pretty tree blossoms.

It starts with all the pretty tree blossoms.

Did you know that the Chinese equivalent of “Bless you” is “Yi bai sui”, or ‘one hundred years’?  Well that is something I have learned intimately in the last while (also, I’m proud to announce that I am going to live forever, thanks to this blessing).

Ah, my wonderful seasonal allergies.  I was allergy-free throughout my childhood, only developing them in my late teens, and at that time they were, fortunately, isolated to the late summer season.  However, as the years have progressed and I have relocated, it appears that the only season in which I do not suffer from seasonal allergies is winter.  And if there is anything my current city likes, it seems to be planting various species of trees that I am allergic to, all of which pollinate at different times.  Thanks, guys.

The only thing that makes the sneezing and itchy nose and eyes enjoyable is that in between sneezes I get to constantly explain to every Chinese person I encounter that I do not, in fact, have a cold, but actually have allergies (and in case you can’t tell, that was sarcasm; it’s actually not fun at all).  It’s not like Chinese people don’t suffer from allergies too…it’s just not the first guess they make.

And then comes the fuzz....

And then comes the fuzz….

So, from March until who-knows-when every year, I spend my days taking western allergy medication (thanks for sending it, mom!), sneezing, and fielding amateur medical advice on how to treat my “cold” from all sorts of people in my daily life – coworkers, my mother-in-law (who has been told multiple times that I have allergies, but who seems to refuse to believe it), parents of the students I teach, random shopkeepers.  So far I’ve managed to resist shouting, “Drinking hot water isn’t going to get rid of my allergies, fool!” but tomorrow’s a new day and anything could happen.

The other day was a particularly bad day and sneezing all day had given me a headache.  I was feeling quite miserable by the evening, so after my husband and I finished dinner, we sat down to relax for a while and he tried to cheer me up.

Seriously...how can something so pretty make me so miserable?!

Seriously…how can something so pretty make me so miserable?!

After yet another sneezing fit, my husband cocked his head and looked at me in the strangest way.  When I asked him what the problem was, he responded by asking me whether my brother had allergies like I do (no, he doesn’t), and then whether my dad does (again, no).  I was a little confused about where it was all going until he blurted out,

“So how come you have allergies?”

I began to explain that my mom has them quite severely too, and also that allergies are not entirely inherited.

“But you’ve got your dad’s nose?” he sputtered.  “Are you telling me that you got the outside of your nose from your dad and the inside from your mom?”

Cheering up – successful.

Posted in Things My Husband Says | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments

A Universal Truth About Men

Hi there.  I’m surprised you’re still hanging around.  I know I haven’t been here in a while; let’s see if I still remember what to do with this thing.

Where have I been?  Uh, busy at work, being unintentionally made to feel guilty about even turning on my computer by my mother-in-law for a couple of weeks, and wandering home improvement markets trying to find shower stalls that will fit our bathrooms and tiles that don’t have images of fruit or nude women on them (and you think I’m exaggerating…I’m not…they’re often in 3D).

See? Not exaggerating.

See? Not exaggerating.

But over that time, I have discovered that men are the same no matter where they are from or how they are raised.  At least when it comes to renovating a house.  More specifically, they are cheap and full of pride…ahem, I mean ‘confidence’.

The last time we talked, I shared that my husband and I had, after looking for about a year and struggling through the process, bought a house.  It is a second-hand home, and had been finished on the inside, but unfortunately for my husband, some picky wife decided that she didn’t like the kitchen and the two bathrooms (as well as a few other, more minor things) and wanted to change them entirely.

Bye bye cheap, red cupboard with metal tops! Oh, and if you look closely, you'll be able to tell that this is certainly the kitchen by the coffee cup adorned tiles. They're gone now too.

Bye bye cheap, red cupboards with metal tops! Oh, and if you look closely, you’ll be able to tell that this is certainly the kitchen by the coffee cup adorned tiles. They’re gone now too.

So it was that we embarked upon this renovation journey.

After talking to a number of his colleagues who have finished houses here before, my husband had a pretty good idea of what we needed to do (also, I should point out that here in China, you’d be crazy to live in the house while you’re renovating. Not only would we not have a kitchen or bathrooms until they were finished, but the dust and noise would be unbearable…so no, we are not living in our house yet).  The first item on the list, obviously, was to demolish the current kitchen and bathrooms.

Now if you’re familiar with Chinese decorating, you’ll know that that means not only pulling out all the fixtures (toilet, sink, vanity, cupboards, range hood, etc.), but that we would also have to remove all the tiles.  That’s right, the tiles that cover the entire floor and the walls, floor to ceiling.

Just look at all those tiles waiting to be torn down!

Just look at all those tiles waiting to be torn down!

Cue my husband coming home one day armed with a hammer and a crowbar and proudly announcing that he was going to do the work himself (having talked to a couple of workers who demolish things for a living, he had decided that the money could be better spent on something else in our house).

Now, I knew from the minute he announced this that it was a bad idea.  A very bad idea.  But I also knew that voicing this belief would lead to an argument, and that judging from his attitude, he was entirely convinced of his decision.  I had no choice but to keep my mouth shut and let it play out.

I feel like I should mention that my husband already has a full-time job that sees him leave the house before 7:00 in the morning and not arrive home again until after 7:00 in the evening, Monday through Friday.  It also sees him often have to work on at least one morning each weekend, even though those are supposed to be his days off.  So my biggest question regarding the whole “I’m going to do the demolition myself” idea was…when?

As I expected, the hammer and crowbar sat in the spare bedroom of our house for at least two weeks, untouched.  Finally, one Saturday while his mother was visiting, he announced at lunch that he would be heading over to the new house that afternoon to begin the work.  And off he went.

When he returned, I could see the triumphant glint in his eyes had been dulled just a bit.  He had worked all afternoon, he reported, and he barely got the tiles from the floor of one bathroom removed.  He physically could not get the tiles off the walls.  And his arms hurt and he had a couple of blisters.  But, he still insisted, he was going to do this himself.  I rolled my eyes in my mind, smiled, and bit my tongue.

His resolve was weakened just a little more the next morning when he woke up with very stiff forearms, not being used to the physical labour required in smashing and pulling up well-stuck-down tiles.  I thought this might have been the end of it, but at noon, he informed me that he and his mother were going to buy a couple of things they needed to plug the pipes in these rooms and then he was returning to do more work.

But, by dinner…success!

After a bit more work and a phone call to a colleague, he discovered that not only would he have to remove all the tiles, but also any adhesive and grout left on the walls, as well as digging down into the floor several inches past the water sealant layer.  At some point while hearing all this and imagining doing it all by hand, the tides turned and he realized that maybe, just maybe, the money he wanted to save for something else would in fact be best spent on hiring a group of workers to do this for us.  And so he put in the call.

They arrived the next morning, and had all the work done and the garbage hauled away in two days.

And that’s how my husband learned that sometimes, it is just best to pay money to have someone who knows what they are doing do a job for you…especially when they have power tools.

Posted in Renovating in China, Things My Husband Says | Tagged , , , , | 12 Comments