Wow! Y’all sure have a lot of interesting questions. Here are some answers:
Wendy asks: Can Chinese citizens apply to go out of the country and automatically get that request? We were wondering about inviting Madeline's foster mother to America sometime, could she come easily or is the process to get a visa to come to our country difficult or permission to travel a problem? I don’t know if there’s a problem on the China end, but it is pretty hard to get a visa on the American end. I hear from students all the time how difficult it is to get a visa, though the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou says 87% of visa requests are granted (I wonder if they include orphan visas in that?!). That 87% definitely includes all the education visas, and it’s my impression that those are easier to get than tourist visas. I’ll never forget a really heart-wrenching scene I saw at the consulate when waiting in line to get in for Zoe’s visa. An elderly Chinese woman was prostrate on the ground, sobbing, with family members trying to get her up and moving, with a guard standing stony-faced above her. I asked our guide what was going on, and she said the woman’s request for a visa to visit family in America had been turned down again. Oh, I don't know if you ever got my email about the minority outfits? Sorry, Wendy, I didn’t get an email, though I think I remember you posting a comment about it. I’ll be happy to bring one home with us, and we’ll figure out at the end of July how to get it to you, ok?
AmericanFamily asks: 1) What did your kids like best about moving to China? Zoe says, “I like that we’re back where we came from and I like that there are English people [of course she means English-speaking people, but anyone who does -- including Chinese people -- are English!) to talk to whenever we need.” Maya says, “I like going to the new school because we play." (What the heck has she been doing in preschool in American?!) There you have it, from the sources! 2) What was the hardest part? The hardest part for me is actually the loss of independence. I’m used to doing most everything on my own, but now I can barely manage daily life – figuring out what the teacher’s note says, getting a new ink cartridge for my printer from the graduate secretary, calling to make airline reservations – without having someone help me because of the language barrier. There are LOTS of things I can do now that I couldn't do so easily when we first got here, but I'm always running up against new ones, it seems). 3) Have you picked up any easy and delicious Chinese recipes? Any from Guangxi province? I wish! But I’m not really much of a cook. I’ve managed fried rice and fried noodles and I can cook simple veggies, but that’s about it. My two huge discoveries, though, that will definitely help me at home – electric rice cookers are WONDERFUL! and it is way easy to boil or steam frozen dumplings (I know I’ve seen them in the frozen foods section of the Chinese grocery store at home, and now I’ll be eager to buy them). 4) Do the law students you teach know about the huge demand for Chinese "legal consultants" to work at international law firms, even though they would have to give up their Chinese law license? If so, are they interested in those jobs? Do most of your students plan to work for law firms? (My husband is a lawyer and we have been researching how law firms work in China). Hardly any of my students want to work for law firms. First of all, the bar pass rate in China is only 10%. Second, the huge demand for Chinese “legal consultants” is actually being filled by law faculty, not law students! Some of my colleagues here are making a mint doing consulting work – I know one of them drives a brand-spanking-new red Jaguar. Most of my students want to work for the government. Now, this could be because Xiada is not one of the top-rated law schools in China – it’s a good school, but lower on the totem pole than schools in Beijing and Shanghai.
Elizabeth asks: Is there something you really wanted to do or experience in China that you haven't had the chance to do yet? Yes, I had really hoped to volunteer at the local orphanage. But I ended up not making it a priority, and now time is running out and I don’t even have permission to visit much less volunteer. I do hope to visit, though. Is there something that took you by surprise since you've been in China? Like a stereotype or image that we as Americans expect, but really isn't the norm? The stereotype I kept bumping up against is what I’ve termed “Mulan Syndrome” – the tendency to think of Chinese culture as it was rather than what it is. So it always surprised me to hear Chinese hip-hop, see modern dance, etc. I was also warned before coming here that Chinese people are very reserved and uncomfortable talking about sex, which was going to be a problem in teaching Women & American Law, I thought. How could we teach sexual harassment, date rape, etc., without talking about sex?! Well, that just wasn’t the case. Students watch “Sex in the City” and “Desperate Housewives” and are quite eager to talk about ALL kinds of things. I had also been told that that Chinese reserve meant that it was hard to make friends here, and that really hasn’t been the case. Everyone has been very friendly, even inviting us to their homes. And I guess I half-expected everyone to be dourly suffering under an oppressive regime – and I found instead that most everyone is pretty happy and pretty competent at working around that oppressive regime. That’s what strikes me now – I’ll keep thinking about it!
Dee asks: I heard there were movies for sale everywhere in China, dirt cheap. Have you seen this? Absolutely! DVDs can be had for about $1. But buying them definitely has the pig-in-a-poke problem – since it is all boot-leg, you have no idea the actual quality of the image and you have no idea what language it will be in. Some of the folks from the consulate in Guangzhou were laughing about that, while disclaiming any personal experience since as consular officials they shouldn’t be condoning the buying of bootlegs. But one said he ended up buying 4 different DVDs of a current American movie before he got one in English – and the problem wasn’t that they were in Chinese, one version he got was in Russian!
A.M.B.A. in MI asks: The family (DH and two kids ages 5 and 4) and I will be moving to Kunming China in August. Will you please do an entry on money - how much daily stuff costs, travel costs, unexpected costs, etc.? We'll be making very little money (teaching university level English) and everyone says we'll do just fine, but I'm a bit skeptical. I'd really like to stay within our Chinese salaries and not raid our home account too much, if possible. We will have a housing allowance. Thanks for your input. Wow, you’re in for an adventure! How wonderful! I hope you plan to keep a blog – if you do, give us the link to follow your “Kunming Adventure!” Things really are cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap. I basically go to the ATM machine at the beginning of the month and get 2,000 RMB (about $250) and that takes care of all our usual expenses for the month. And we’re not trying to do it on the cheap – we eat out 3-4 times a week and it seems every time I got to Trust-Mart I come home with new shoes or a new outfit for the girls.
We have free housing, including utilities, so I can’t give you much guidance on those. I’d think you can get a comfortable middle-class two-bedroom apartment here for 1500-2000 yuan per month ($200-250). Our single largest expense was the girls’ school tuition – around 3600 yuan each for the semester – but that’s about $100 per month for each of them, and that sure beats the heck out of what I was paying at home! I really haven’t paid any systematic attention to prices, but here’s a sampling of things we’ve bought recently to give you kind of an idea:
Dinner at Lin Duck House (fried rice, clams, scrambled eggs with mushrooms, Chinese cabbage, 2 cans of Sprite) – 48 yuan ($6)
2 popsicles – 2 yuan (25 cents)
2 600 ml Cokes – 5 yuan (65 cents)
1 620 ml Chinese beer – 5 yuan
1 just-add-water cup of ramen noodles – 3.3 yuan (45 cents)
Package of spring onion saltine crackers – 2.3 yuan (30 cents)
1 package cheese (like the “Laughing Cow” variety) – 12.5 yuan ($1.65 – cheese is hard to find and relatively expensive here)
Baby bok choy (enough for 2-3 meals) – 3.5 yuan (45 cents – veggies are VERY cheap)
Plums (about 10) – 6 yuan (50 cents)
Grapes (about 5 pounds) 31 yuan ($4 – fruit is expensive, comparatively speaking)
New Disney Princess backpack (Zoe’s was destroyed by overpacking!) – 79 yuan ($10)
Pastries for breakfast – 6 yuan (50 cents)
Daily travel is also cheap – 1 yuan for unairconditioned bus, 2 yuan if it has airconditioning; taxis rarely run me more than 18 yuan ($2) wherever I go in Xiamen (except for the airport, which is about as far from Xiada as any place can be, and then that’s about a $10 ride). Train travel is very cheap – it was less than $60 for all three of us from Nanning to Guilin. Plane travel is a bit more – for 3 round-trip tickets from Xiamen to Shanghai, it was around $400.If you’re interested in looking at in-China flight prices, I suggest eLong.com (they have an English website).
You didn’t ask, but let me mention two things you’ll find it nigh-on impossible to find in China, based on my experience and what I’ve heard from other expats – deodorant and sunscreen. So bring as much as you’ll need!
The only unexpected expense so far has been replacing the 2 fillings that fell out of my teeth – a $75 dentist visit. Hope this helps!
Mimi asks: Did you have time to go look for musical instruments for the girls? And did you have time to go see a ballet class? No, and no! We still have time, though . . . .
Keep on asking, and I'll keep on answering!