I suspect I may actually be Chinese

I read an article about a style of parenting popular here in China, called setback parenting. In this, you’re basically really awful to your kid so they don’t get too high an opinion of themselves and this will apparently make them stronger. I think you can guess how it turns out.

Here’s the article: http://www.sixthtone.com/news/1001083/setback-education-the-parenting-fad-harming-chinas-kids

As I read it, I did a LOL (as the kids might say, but probably wouldn’t, because I have no idea what the kids actually say), as there are so many parallels with my childhood. My dad believed (possibly still believes) that you shouldn’t compliment (or be nice to) your kids and is surprised that we now do not have a very close relationship.

Anyway, there are lots of other reasons why I think I had a Chinese upbringing:

  1. I got glasses when I was 4 years old.
  2. I play the violin.
  3. And the piano!
  4. I was a total nerd in school, until that day that I suddenly wasn’t.
  5. I went to LSE.
  6. My parents were pretty strict.
  7. I still think less than 90% in a test doesn’t really count as a pass.

That’s only my childhood. There’s further evidence that I’m a Chinese adult, for example: my love of WeChat stickers, going hiking with an umbrella, drinking hot water, shouting in restaurants, pushing on the metro and a whole host of other things that I’ll write about another time.

How to change jobs in China

First of all, a disclaimer that is a long post and may be out of date already (things change quickly), and may also be specific to Shanghai – but I thought it might be useful to document the process of changing jobs in China, and to let Now you have a work permit for your new company you can apply for a new residence permit.you all know what I’ve been dealing with, work-wise.

  • Hand in notice (8th July)

Almost four months into working at EF I’d had enough. It was a terrible place to work, and I was fortunate to be offered an interview at a much better company. I jumped at the chance, they offered me the job and I resigned from EF. Chinese labour law stipulates a one-month notice period, but EF wanted me to work for two months, claiming that they have an agreement with the police here. I have no doubt that this is a lie.

  • Get documents notarised by the Chinese embassy in the UK (July/August)

When I applied for my work permit for EF, I needed a police background check and scanned copies of my degrees. The rules have now changed and I needed to get all these documents notarised by the Chinese embassy in the country that issued these certificates – which meant applying for a new police background check (they’re only valid for six months) and FedExing all the documents to an agency in Coventry, who could deal with the whole process for a hefty fee. They then said that the Chinese embassy wouldn’t be able to notarise my degrees as they don’t state my middle name – a new rule, another hurdle to jump through. Eventually this got sorted out by a solicitor writing a statement to say that I am me, middle name or no. Finally, the documents were sent back to China, notarised and ready to be used in the application for the new work permit.

  • On final day at your old company, get a release letter (5 September)

One thing to remember is that foreigners can only work in China with a work permit, which is for a specific employer only. Your employer basically owns you.

If you leave a company, they have to cancel your work permit so that your new company can apply for a new work permit for you, armed with an official ‘release letter’ from the old company. What your old company DOESN’T have to do is cancel your residence permit – the page in your passport that allows you to stay in the country – but my previous employer did this. My residence permit was replaced with a 30 day ‘humanitarian stay visa’, which was backdated to a date in August, giving me 14 working days from when I picked it up (oh yeah and I had to pay for this new visa). This was the most stressful thing, and totally unnecessary – your old company doesn’t need to do this! However mine wouldn’t give me the release letter without handing over my passport to get my residence permit cancelled.

  • New company can apply for a new work permit (5 September)

Your new company needs to already be registered on the system to start this process, which apparently takes a week or so, so ought to be done beforehand. The work permit application process takes minimum 15 working days – five for the online check and then ten for an in-person check. Remember how I said I had 14 working days…

Two weeks after applying for the work permit, the HR guy at my new company called me to say the application had been rejected. It was still at the online stage and had taken this long as the whole computer system had crashed. My application was rejected because one of the forms had printed over two pages and they wanted it one page. I was in a hotpot restaurant with a good friend and didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

The next day, 21 September, we submitted a revised application. My visa was due to expire on 24 September, so I flew to Hong Kong that weekend. It was lovely to be in HK and great to see my uncle, but quite stressful to leave my home and not know if I would be allowed back in the country. I applied for a new visa while in Hong Kong, and picked it up a few days later, flying back to Shanghai later that week, and feeling extremely relieved.

The following week was an 8 day national holiday so nothing could happen with the work permit application – leaving me worried that I’d run out of time on this visa too.

  • Physical health check (18 September)

This is necessary to get a residence permit, and involves going to a health centre out near Shanghai Zoo and doing a whole bunch of checks: height, weight, chest x-ray, ultrasound, ECG, blood tests, blood pressure, eye test. Basically they’re trying to make sure you won’t die while in China and that you don’t have HIV.

My results were sent directly to my new company and HR sent me a message to say they had the certificate. I was intrigued to see what the notes said – I’d passed the test but it said I had a heart abnormality, which freaked me out a little bit (I’m fine! I checked with people who know more about this kind of stuff and it’s okay!).

  • Apply for new residence permit (25 October)

Finally, on 24 October, my work permit was ready. I went to the Entry-Exit Bureau in the depths of Pudong with my HR colleague to apply for the residence permit. This allows you to live in the country, and it takes seven working days to process. I finally got my passport back last week and am so happy to feel settled once again in this crazy old country.

Conclusion

Changing jobs in China is hard. There are a lot of hurdles to jump through. Even though I’m highly skilled and experienced, there’s so much paperwork and confusion, and changing rules and regulations. It had to be done, however, as I couldn’t have stayed at my old job. And now – nearly four months after resigning from my old job – I’m happily working at my new company. Long may it last!

Costs

Document notarisation: £500

FedEx documents to the UK for notarisation: 300 RMB (£35)

Humanitarian visa: 160 RMB (£18)

Health check: 461 RMB (plus 15 RMB for posting results) (£54)

Flights to Hong Kong: 1500 RMB (£173)

Visa in Hong Kong: 750 HKD (£73)

(most of these costs I can claim back from my new company, but it’s certainly caused some temporary cashflow issues!)

 

 

Getting a haircut

Last week I was feeling down in the dumps, so I went to get my hair cut. I found a picture of the style I wanted and showed it to the hairdresser, who said it was no problem. He asked when I’d had that haircut and didn’t believe me that the random picture on the internet wasn’t me (after all, foreigners generally all look alike).

After chopping at my hair for some time he whipped out the electric razor and I realised I was getting a different haircut to the one I’d asked for. Luckily I’m not precious about my hair and I like it short, so I just let him do whatever.

He asked if I wanted more volume on the top bit, and I said sure. I have extremely fine hair so volume is needed. He started fiddling around with my hair, putting it in pins. It was quite relaxing. Then he took out a box of something chemical looking and I began to get suspicious. I asked to have a look at the box. Perming solution! Are you kidding me?! I told him that there was no way I could have a perm, my hair would be destroyed. He was really keen to do it but I made him stroke my baby-soft hair and compare it to his own and eventually he agreed that I could have a think about a perm and maybe do it next time.

By this point I was a bit stressed out so he told me to wait there (where else could I go, with my hair full of pins) and he disappeared, returning with a bowl of cherry tomatoes for me. He told me I was pretty and that I had nice big eyes, not like those “scary Russian eyes” (I think he meant blue eyes but I’m not sure, he was adamant that they were scary).

He faffed around with my hair a bit longer and finally I left. I’m actually really happy with it, brushed down it looks work appropriate – my manager didn’t notice the undercut until my colleague pointed it out. I’m obsessed with stroking the undercut, like I’m a giant shorthaired cat.

WeChat, China’s messaging megalith

China has 1.3 billion people and surely at least that many mobile phones (everyone has a mobile and some sleazy businessmen will have one for the wife and another for the mistress, #lads etc). If I take the metro to work it’s very easy to avoid eye contact with anyone, as they’re all looking at their phones. 

What are they doing – especially given that so much is blocked in China? Watching TV shows, catching up on weibo, shopping on taobao or chatting on WeChat, of course!

WeChat is the messaging app of choice for everyone in China, young or old. You can use it for text and voice messages, sending photos, voice calls and video calls. So far so normal. But there’s so much more. Here’s a few things that I use wechat for on a daily basis (ok, hourly, I am in China after all).

  1. WeChat wallet. If you link your bank card (Chinese banks only) to your WeChat wallet then you can use WeChat to pay for things. Every retailer either has a QR code for you to scan and enter the amount to pay, or they’ll scan your QR code. It’s so so easy and means you hardly ever have to carry cash. You can also use WeChat wallet to pay bills, buy tickets and top up your mobile phone.
  2. Red envelopes. You can send money to friends. Again, so easy!
  3. Scanning friends. If you meet someone and you want to add them as a friend, you don’t need to faff about typing in their number or looking them up in a search bar. Every user on WeChat has a personal QR code, so you just ask to scan them, they produce the QR code, you scan it and add them. Simple! 
  4. Stickers. These are pictures or gifs you can send in messages. You can download packs of stickers or if a friend sends you a cool one you can save it to impress other friends with later. I like dog ones, obviously, but I also have a pretty rad one of Hitler dancing with glow sticks.
  5. Group chats. These can be for work, friends or interest groups. I’m in all three, though some of them have notifications on mute!
  6. Subscriptions. These are news or organisation accounts that I follow. I particularly like the ones about Shanghai so I know what’s on (art, cinema etc) or what’s a hot topic right now (typhoons, flour scandal, VPN news).
  7. Moments. This is like a facebook news feed, except if a friend posts something you can only read the comments by people you’re already connected to.

Soon you’ll be able to use it on the turnstiles at metro stations here in Shanghai, eliminating the need to carry a metro card.

    Of course, this amazing app does come with a price, and that’s all your personal data belonging firstly to Tencent and then the Chinese government. So that’s not ideal. Also, like many apps in China, it’s a really bloated app  and as a result my phone is grinding to a standstill these days. But life without it would be a lot less convenient, so I try to put any concerns about the government out of my mind… Needs must!!

    Things that are banned in China

    You probably know that Facebook is banned in China. It’s been banned for years now. But did you know that the following are also banned (either permanently or temporarily):

    Google (other than google translate), WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, WordPress, LFGSS, gambling, going to Tibet, talking about something that happened in June 1989, baking soda, tinned soup, mentioning certain topics in WeChat groups, changing your WeChat profile picture or username, imported blue cheese, going anywhere without your passport, Brad Pitt, airbnb (it’s not technically legal and right now it’s completely banned in Beijing), hot air balloons, drones, the New York Times and the South China Morning Post but not the Guardian, having a dog without a license, some shoes, giving your child a Muslim name if you live in western China, marmite, and Justin Bieber.

    Renaming a dog

    I’ve been looking after a miniature schnauzer for ten days, a sweet little boy called Santa. His owner assured me that he was well behaved and well trained. He’s certainly not well trained – toilet trained, maybe, but he doesn’t know any basic commands (he will sit if you hold a treat over his nose, so he definitely could get it if he was trained, he just hasn’t been!). 

    He’s very cute, a real velcro dog who wants to be by my side at all times. He can’t climb onto the bed by himself but he’ll put his front paws on the bed and wait for me to pick him up and then he’ll sleep on the bed all night. During the day he follows me about the flat, sitting on my feet wherever I am, unless I’m sitting on the sofa and then he’ll sit next to, or across, me.

    He loves going outside and gets very excited if he thinks he’s going to go out. This means that every time I go to the bathroom (which is next to my front door) he gets excited and starts shuttling about in a circle and jumping up at me. Once outside, he wants to sniff everything, and any understanding of the word “sit” completely vanishes. He’s used to having two 20 minute walks per day but he’s been getting a lot more with me, usually more than 10,000 of my steps over the course of the day.

    He doesn’t know his name, which is good because I don’t think Santa suits him and I forget to call him that most of the time. My friend Mahalia said he looks like a Gustav so he got renamed, but I also call him the following: Big G, shuttlepig, horror, piggo, superted, gougou, pumpkin, Rowley (the cat), Nancy (my friends schnauzer), Hazel (another friend’s schnauzer) and any number of other names that aren’t Santa.

    Things my Chinese teacher says to me…

    Your pronunciation is terrible.

    Your pronunciation is great.

    You’re not *that* fat.

    You have very big eyes.

    Don’t say that, you sound like you’re from Beijing.

    Don’t say that, you sound like a cute Taiwanese girl.

    Don’t say that, you sound like you’re from Shanghai.

    Don’t tell anyone, but I think Koreans look funny.

    Your family is strange.

    Your life is funny.

    You’ve made huge progress and we’re all really proud of you.

    Yangcheng Lake 10k

    My running club organises a few races each year, but this was the first I was able to go along to. People had been talking this up for some time, telling me about an amazing buffet and swimming pool, so as soon as it was announced it went straight in my diary.

    What’s the deal:

    • get picked up from Shanghai (not too far from our house), get given breakfast and then driven to Fairmont hotel by Yangcheng Lake, a 5* hotel about an hour from Shanghai
    • 10k or half marathon in the grounds of the hotel/surrounding area, alongside the lake and through some organic farms
    • swimming in the hotel pool
    • buffet
    • get driven back to Shanghai afterwards

    In reality, this meant:

    • We took a taxi to the pick up point and the stupid driver went the wrong way and refused to do a U-turn, prompting my best Shanghainese shouting. Breakfast was good and we had a chat with people I know from running club, then we took the bus. The bus got lost near the hotel for about half an hour, but one of the other buses was so lost that the start had to be delayed.
    • The 10k was slightly long, about 10.6k! This wasn’t appreciated but my undertrained legs. The half marathon was spot on. So glad I didn’t do the half… Beautiful course despite the runaway golf cart.
    • It was a little too cold to swim in the pool but we lazed by it for a while, and having a pool meant we could use the showers to get changed post-race, which was fantastic.
    • The buffet had been seriously hyped. I’d been told about cheese – and after not really eating much cheese for some time, I was pretty excited. This was just before the Great Cheese Ban of 2017 so I’m not sure why there was no cheese, but there wasn’t, and the veggie options weren’t amazing either. I had two plates of salad and then about 3 plates of desserts. Not three desserts. Three plates of desserts.
    • We got the last bus back to Shanghai as we were having fun chilling out in the hotel grounds. The bus driver took us on a major detour and we ended up in Suzhou. There was a lot of talk about dogs and Matt fell asleep. When we got back we went for a beer at EQ cafe.

    All in all, a really fun day and an enjoyable race. I was soooo slow but I’ve really not done much running. I ran out of steam after 8.5k, which is definitely more of a mental thing. There’s a 15k race next month so I’m hopefully going to do that.

    Huge thanks to Martin for organising everything and being an all-round great Dane!

    Slugs and snails and puppydogs’ tails

    Little boys are horrible. Six year olds, specifically. Snot, fighting and being awful to each other.

    Little Raphael is a case in point. When he’s not paying attention, or when he’s paying too much attention, he blows spit bubbles. It’s my least favourite thing of anything my students do, which is impressive as they’re often quite repulsive. Every time he does it I tell him to stop and tell him I won’t give him a sticker at the end of class. Sometimes this goes in and sometimes he just stares at me, spit bubbles ballooning out of his chubby face. Then I say “goodbye sticker!” and out of his unfortunately slightly gormless face comes a confused and slightly wronged face – what did i do? He reminds me of a small drunk, a miniature McNulty, barrelling about agape at the injustice in the world.

    Raphael would love, more than anything, to be one of the cool kids in class. He tries so hard to be part of their gang but never quite manages it. Recently we were discussing dinosaurs and we all agreed that dinosaurs are very cool.

    “When I grow up I want to be a scientist!” announced Raphael, proudly. “I want to discover things about dinosaurs!”

    One of his classmates started laughing. “As if you could ever be a scientist!”

    And all the other boys laughed.

    This class are off to primary school this week. Chinese children start school at 6 years old and are often extraordinarily ill-equipped for it. A nation of only children brought up by their grandparents, these children are fitted on from a young age. The parents work and the grandparents (sometimes 4 to 1 child) give their little precious everything they never had. I see children being fed like birds, opening their mouths and waiting for grandma to stuff more food in. I see grandfathers trailing their grandchild, praising every tiny thing. “You’re the best! You’re number one! You’re better than all the other children!” (about being number one… I’ve had fights break out in my classroom over it, and every child I’ve taught would rather rush their work and finish first than do it all correctly). I very frequently see 4 or 5 year olds being carried like babies. 

    Chinese children spend six years being told how amazing and special they are, allowed to rule the roost (bar the occasional violent beating), running around causing havoc in restaurants almost as bad as in middle class parts of London, unable to feed or dress themselves. And then… primary school.

    40 or 50 students per class, intense competition and years of rote learning lie ahead.

    Raphael, of course, doesn’t know quite what his future holds. He’s always seemed slightly carefree, either impervious or (more likely) oblivious, confident that he is NUMBER ONE despite any evidence to back this up. He looked puzzled when my Teaching Assistant stopped the other boys laughing at him by saying that everyone is allowed to have a dream, like he’d suggested he wanted to grow up to be a panda instead of the number one scientist…

    At the end of class I gave all the students lollipops and wished them well at primary school. They rampaged about one final time while I led them out of class to find their parents. All the children scampered off until I was left with just Raphael. His grandma hurried forward and checked he wasn’t cold (grandparents fight an endless battle against their grandchildren being cold, even in the Shanghai summer) and asked him how class was. He showed her the lollipop, clasped in his sweaty little hand. 

    Then the smile fell from his face. He stood completely still. Grandma asked him what was wrong. He appeared to get smaller by the second, then turned to me, his face hardened by resolve and sadness. “I’m not allowed sweets anymore,” he told me. “Mum says I’m fat.” He handed back the lollipop and, downcast, walked off, ignoring Grandma’s pleas that he was just perfect.

    Welcome to the end of your childhood, Raphael.

    Two weeks at Functional 45

    Since moving to Shanghai I’ve been a bit lazy and have run a fraction of what I used to do in London. I have lots of excuses: I didn’t know the city, it’s impossible to run to work without a shower at work, it’s hot (it maxed out at 45 degrees), it’s raining (rain here is heavy – I don’t mind getting wet but the roads flood and there are huge storms), my stomach is bad, etc. But a lot of the time I’ve just been lazy.

    I’m in a running club, which meets once a week and runs along a pedestrianised stretch of the West Bund. It’s a nice bunch of people from all over, coordinated by a 2m tall Dane. A great dane, if you like. The West Bund has no cars, bikes or scooters, which is heavenly (the rule of pavements in Shanghai seems to be that if you can fit your bike/scooter/car then it’s fair game). Lots of people come here to make the most of it, a lot of whom seem to be lacking any idea of space or direction. These include: old people out walking/clapping, young people walking 3 abreast, kids on rollerblades, kids doing martial arts, stupid little yappy dogs, a group of men playing the saxophone, old men flying kites, extremely large groups of women doing square dancing, big dogs scaring the shit out of people, joggers running extremely slowly, grandparents walking their precious darling… At first I tried to dodge people and then I progressed to shouting at people and I’m almost ready to graduate to what one of my club members does and implement a points system for shoulder barging people. 

    Much as I love running club, it’s only once a week and I need to do more :( Matt told me about a new gym opening in Shanghai, with a 2 week free trial. We signed up for the trial without reading too much about it.

    Last Monday we turned up at F45. It was a room full of random equipment in Jiashan Market in the french concession. F45, it turned out, is HIIT training, where you go around a circuit laid out and do each activity for a set amount of time (for example: 30 seconds, 15 seconds rest, 20 seconds, 10 seconds rest and move to the next activity). The activities are stuff like burpees, weights, cycling, squats, mountain climbers and sadistic things like battle ropes. Oh yeah and there’s banging music. It’s 45 mins long.

    Slightly dazed at the end, we showered (using the delicious Eco&More shampoo!) and then had a little chat with Lauren, the trainer. It was a lot more fun than I thought it would be, less shouty and motivational, and it didn’t matter if you couldn’t do something very well (hello, press ups) as it didn’t get in the way of anyone else as they were all busy doing their own things. Matt and I went to Happy Buddha (amazing veggie restaurant nearby) afterwards and stuffed our faces.

    The next day I was pretty sore but managed a run. On Wednesday we went back to F45, and again on Thursday and Friday. Thursday was more resistance based, whereas the other days were cardio. By the end of the week we’d got to know quite a few of the other people and felt a lot more comfortable with the format. I’d figured out that the TV screens at the front showed what each activity was meant to look like, or what it could look like if I was about a thousand times fitter and also a man with a half sleeve.

    We didn’t go over the weekend but I was back on Monday. I was asked where Matt was and I forgot his excuse so just said he was in bed, which he was, but he was going to football later and also had a medical excuse that I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone and am probably not allowed to blog about. 

    On Tuesday I got up at 6am, jumped on the metro and went to the 7.15 class. Although we don’t live in the french concession it’s super quick and easy for us to get there. I did a resistance workout then cycled to work HQ for an exam. And then ate a pastry and an icecream.

    I didn’t make it again until Friday due to work, though Matt went on Wednesday and Thursday. Our final exercise of the final workout was jumping over a box, which Matt and I managed to totally synchronise. I thought we looked pretty cool, but evidently not as cool as my friends Casey and Catherine, whose endeavours on the agility ladder ended up filmed and on the F45 instagram.

    Part of me would love to sign up now my trial is over. I definitely wouldn’t push myself to do all those exercises on my own, and I like the camaraderie. The trainers are really lovely, super supportive, friendly and fun. 45 minutes is enough time to get a proper workout in but not so long that you think you might die before the end. However, it’s 1600 per month (that’s about £180!). And I have a feeling that the vibe probably should be more shouty, to fit the overall brand. 

    I’m really glad I did the trial. If money was no object I’d absolutely sign up. But I’m soon to be unemployed so I can’t really justify it :( You can do individual sessions for 200 a go, so I will do one every now and then, especially with Matt or with my friends. And in the meantime I’m going to try to stop being such a lazy goose and work on press-ups so that I can impress the trainers on my next visit!!