Arriving in Shanghai Airport it became clear very quickly we were in a very foreign country.
The main signs for passengers are in Chinese and English, but as you move around the airport you see other signs just in Chinese writing, and it begins to dawn on you that you have no chance of understanding anything here.
When we left the Airport to catch a taxi you find that the touts actually speak English, unlike the taxi drivers. So at that point it is useful to use one of them. They can explain to the Taxi driver where you are going etc.
Hotels and Restaurants:
At the Hotels, most of the receptionists have basic English, but it’s no point asking them where somewhere is, as that is beyond their understanding.
The booklets and leaflets in the hotel rooms explaining how to use the TV, A/C etc are all in Chinese. So it is very much a guessing game to get the A/C to work, which was a must as Shanghai is experiencing its hottest summer since records began!
A phrase book may have been useful but in Turkey we could not find an English/Chinese one, so we worked blind, and with some help from the internet.
Some Restaurants have menus in both Chinese and English, although the translations can be confusing.
But all of them have menus with pictures on, so just choose the one you like the look of and hope.
Another imperative for us was a Chinese Sim.
There are 2 or 3 main Chinese Telecom Suppliers in the High Streets, but again, English is limited.
So we bought a card, not knowing what we were getting free for the money, as the paperwork is all in Chinese. But it worked instantly.
Then we learnt that the Sims are region related! So a Sim bought in Shanghai gives you cheap calls in and around Shanghai, but not in other provinces. So this meant we had to buy another one when we got to our final destination, to enable cheap and free calls between phones in that province!
Internet providers are good, but we will have to wait a while, as they require 4 months deposit.
was different again.
Everything in Hong Kong is English based, so life was easier there.
The different Chinese Airline Websites also have an English option, which helps when booking online. They even give you a choice of currencies.
But things are a lot more expensive than China.
To date we are still getting our head round the money. The main notes are very easy to understand. They all have English Numbers on them.
There are coins which also have English numbers on them, but then there are small notes. These we haven’t fully understood yet. Some are the same as the coins, but the Taxis don’t accept them. Some are in even smaller demonaters. 10 RMB (Chinese Yen) is around £1. That has made life simpler, but then when you get down to very small demonations, there is only one word really..worthless! So we have a tin we are collecting these small notes and coins.
All the ATM machines have an English option, which was a pleasant surprise.
Now this is when I really feel lost.
The Supermarkets are modern and range from very large to small corner ones.
Buying food has been a tricky project!
Nothing is in English.
Most of the time you can guess what it is. Crisps etc
Bread has defeated us so far.
We have bought 3 different kinds only to find it is yellow when sliced. Apparantly this is “Egg” bread. An aquired taste!
They sell some foreign foods.
Nescafe is everywhere. You can find Kellogs Cereals and Muesli.
Milk is fresh and tastes fine. We guessed the milk cartons, as they are very similar to Yoghurt cartons.
Cheese is mostly European.
The meat is something else! Walking around you are faced with all kinds of things my English Stomach balks at. Pigs trotters cooked in every imaginable way. Pigs Tongues line up on the counter pointing at you. Chickens feet lined up look like they might just start running away! Bendy Penis’s pointing at you! Then the blood. Large amounts of cubed ducks, pigs and whatever else blood stares at you, in the same way our cheese does on a cheese counter back home. But the absolute worse for me, and one I am sure I will never get used to, the chicks in eggs. They boil the eggs that contain chicks about to hatch. On the display counter they always have a few open for you to see, and I just cannot look at them.
Eels, Bullfrogs, and other unmentionable things are also everywhere for sale, as you wander around with your trolley.
Away from this carnage, the fruit and veg is great. We are still finding it hard to buy cleaning materials, Mr Muscle is here, but every bottle only tells you what it is in Chinese. So I bought, what I hoped was bleach, only to find it was blue toilet cleaner!
We stood looking at some packets of what we hoped were sugar for about 10 minutes before using the phone translator to show an assistant. Yes, she nodded when she read sugar in Chinese.
Back home, 2 coffees made, and Dan had his first, and spat it all over the table. Not sugar, not even salt, but some weird tasting cooking ingredient.
Back to the Supermarket the next day, I found a packet that said in English “Sugar” I sneakily opened a packet and poured some into my hand, and discovered it was Sugar! So we now have sugar!
A more pet friendly country, there is a good choice of Dog and Cat food, and treats.
They charge you for every carrier bag here, so I now carry a foldup bag with me everywhere.
Cigarettes were another problem. Lots on sale, but Brands we had never heard of. We got around this problem in the duty free at Shanghai.
We spent ages reading every carton for the nicotine, tar content, and finding ones that were the strength we wanted, we wrote the names down for future reference. Much to the disappointment of the guy in duty free, who I think thought we were going to buy lots of cartons! For the pro smoker readers, China is smoker friendly!
The Shopping Malls / Centres are bright big and modern.
Very Western and with the usual Designer shops etc.
Chemists are tricky, as they sell Chinese Remedies alongside traditional medicine.
I wanted some body lotion, and I eventually found 2 bottles with English on them. One said Snakes Oil Cream. Gave that a miss
The taxis here are everywhere and very cheap.
In our city it costs £1 to go anywhere within the city.
The bus fares are 10p but they are sparse after 9pm at night.
China has special lanes for bicycles and motorcycles. The Electric bike or “E” Bike is very popular here, and cheap. Around £180 to buy, so we shall invest in one shortly.
Every apartment block has charging outlets in the entrance.
There is no tipping expected here. All Restaurants and Cafes include a service charge, and the Taxis do not expect tips. It is an unusual thing here to tip.
The biggest bane of my life so far has been our washing machine. It is a toploader, new, with Chinese Instructions!
We spent 3 hours one night with Dan writing down the Chinese Symbols from the instructions and copying them into his phone translator, before we managed to get some idea of what all the buttons did.
Still I have problems. The other day, on my day off, my washing was washed for over 3 hours! It kept repeating and repeating, but not emptying and spinning!
We know it is going to be frustrating for a while. Especially as I had mastered living in Turkey so well.
I miss being able to communicate with shop keepers and taxi drivers etc. We have to have everything written in Chinese and just show it to people. Or just point to things and hope.
I know it will come, but it will be a slow process for this old brain
Still, we are here. We made it alive and we are still speaking to one another!
The bonus side:
We are in a country most people will never visit. We are experiencing the warmth and unusual culture of the people here.
From here, it is easy to explore so many other places.
I can see modern apartment blocks and Pagodas from my window at school.
Things are incredibly cheap and, once we get over this initial hurdle of having little money, we will be able to live very well on both of our salaries combined.
We now finally have a lovely home.
Our school is laid back and relaxed. No strict rules. The students are shy, polite and curious. From them we will learn about the culture and customs here.
My little dog has settled very well and is always happy.
So, after a very hectic 2 weeks, it is now time to chill, relax and go with the flow..with coffee of course