A year ago today I left Shenzhen for a 3 week holiday in India, never having even an inkling that I wouldn’t be able to go back to my home of 9 years.
So many things have happened since then – some good, some bad, and pretty much all of them emotional in some way, shape or form. Right now I’m feeling too many emotions to name and I don’t quite know what to do with myself.
It’s been months since I updated this blog (April last year was my last post) and I will probably write about everything that has happened since then in more detail – just not right now. I think I just want to write out everything that’s in my head to try and make sense of it all. Although that’s probably easier said than done!
Perhaps I should do a summary of my year…
21 January 2020: Left Shenzhen, China, where I’d lived since 2011, and went on holiday with 4 friends to India with only hand luggage.
February 2020: Told that my school was going to online teaching and my flight back to Shenzhen was cancelled. Instead flew to Kazakhstan (via Dubai and Bahrain) to stay with my then gf as there were no cases there at the time. School reopening dates kept getting moved back as cases escalated in China. Was also applying and having interviews for jobs for the next academic year.
March 2020: Had to leave Kazakhstan as my visa was only for 30 days, decided against going back to China as cases were still rising, instead went to Thailand to stay with friends. Was offered and accepted a job in Myanmar starting in August. Booked a flight back to Shenzhen for 1st April. Flight was cancelled. Booked a new flight for 27th March. Wasn’t allowed on it as the Chinese government closed the border to foreigners at midnight on 27th March, even though my flight was due to land at 11.20pm. Got stuck in Thailand. Still teaching online.
April 2020: Told by my school that I could no longer teach remotely and they would stop paying me when the children went back to school in May. Myanmar government closed their border. Couldn’t go back to China, couldn’t go forward to Myanmar. Still staying with the same (amazing) friends in Thailand. All on lockdown.
May 2020: Thailand still mostly locked down. Chinese border still closed. Students at my school in China went back into school and I stopped working after 9 years at the same place. Myanmar border still closed and the government keeps extending the closure by two weeks at a time.
June 2020: Used all my spare time as I was no longer working (or being paid) to study towards my masters in education. Chinese border still closed. Lease on my apartment in Shenzhen ended. Spent hours on video calls to my flatmate (who I’d never lived with add she moved in in March) going through everything I own to either get rid of or pack for me to be sent to Myanmar. The Myanmar government extended the border closure again, this time until the end of July which was when my Thai visa ran out. I couldn’t go back to China, I couldn’t go forward to Myanmar and on top of that I couldn’t stay in Thailand. Booked flight back to the UK.
July 2020: Arrived in the UK on 4th July. Got dumped a few days later. Went clothes shopping as I was fed up of the week’s worth of clothes I’d been wearing for the last 6 months. Decided to make the most of my time in the UK before starting my new job in Myanmar in August, and spent the time with friends and family I hadn’t seen for a year (and went on a couple of dates!). Met someone wonderful and completely unexpectedly fell head over heels. All my belongings arrived at my new school in Myanmar. Myanmar government extended the border closure.
August 2020: Started my new job in Myanmar remotely online. Because of the time difference started work at 3.15am. Went to Myanmar embassy in London and applied for my visa. Myanmar government extended the border closure.
September 2020: Spent lots of (socially distanced) time with friends and family (and my special someone). Still teaching remotely in Myanmar. Myanmar government extended the border closure.
October 2020: Still teaching remotely in Myanmar. Celebrated my Mum’s and my birthdays in the UK for the first time in 9 years. Myanmar government extended the border closure.
November 2020: Moved in with my new partner and so have a proper home of my own for the first time since January. Still teaching remotely in Myanmar. Myanmar government extended the border closure.
December 2020: Celebrated Christmas in the UK for the first time in 7 years, not quite with family as planned due to the restrictions, but lovely nonetheless. Still teaching remotely in Myanmar. School announced that we would be continuing to teach online until April. Myanmar government extended the border closure.
January 2021: Co-hosted an awesome online New Year’s Eve party celebrating New Year in every time zone in the world (I co-hosted Myanmar, Kazakhstan, Nepal and India; for anyone interested the party is still going here: thelong.party) Set up a new home office for me to teach from as I’m still teaching remotely in Myanmar, and will be until at least April. Currently trying to arrange for my belongings to be shipped from my school in Myanmar to the UK. It’s been a year since I’ve had my stuff and I’d rather not have to re-buy all the things I already own, however, it’s proving to be difficult and expensive and so is taking much longer than I’d hoped.
So that brings us all up to date. What started off as a Facebook status has turned into a bit of a long post, but evidently I needed to write it all out.
Despite – or perhaps because of – all the ups and downs, I am really happy to be at home in the UK. I’m also eternally grateful to everyone who has been there for me over the last year, in whatever form that has taken. I love you all very dearly and I know my life would be so much poorer without you in it.
Here’s to the next year and the surprises it may bring!
My last post ended with my stay at a hotel near Bangkok airport, waiting for my flight back to Shenzhen (well, back to Guangzhou, as there weren’t any flights to Shenzhen and Guangzhou is the next closest city). The night before my flight I had messages from several of my friends in Shenzhen telling me that the Chinese government had just announced they would be closing the border to foreigners as of 00:00 on Saturday 28th March (link to article here). My flight was due to land at 11.20pm on 27th March. I thought I would arrive just in time to scrape through passport control and get back home to China.
Unfortunately, this was not to be.
When queuing to check in for my flight, I and other non-Chinese in the line were approached by other foreigners who told us that they’d been turned away when they got to the check-in desk. There was no official announcement, nothing from the staff of the airline. So I continued to queue in the vain hope that I would be allowed on the flight or at least be given some useful information. Instead, I got to the front of the queue and was just told no, please go over there out of the way.
I kept asking people to try and get some official information and eventually was directed to a member of staff around whom was a growing group of foreigners. We were told that even though the plane was due to land at 11.20pm, by the time the plane got to the gate and everyone had their temperature checked it would take about two hours, and so we wouldn’t get through immigration until after midnight and therefore wouldn’t be let in the country.
And so I became stuck in Thailand.
That was on 27th March. Two months, one week and three days later and I’m still in Thailand. And there’s no news about when the Chinese border will reopen to foreigners.
Thankfully, I have two amazing friends – James and Nat – who took me in, for which I am eternally grateful.
I felt at the time that the whole situation completely sucked, and the feeling of being stuck in limbo was horrible; however, I tried to look on the bright side and be grateful that I’m healthy, I have wonderful friends, I’m safe and I have a place to stay.
Since then I’ve had many, many ups and downs.
My work informed me that as I wasn’t able to return to China, once my students returned to school I would no longer be able to teach them. My students returned to school on 11th May, so after 12 weeks of teaching online I had to stop teaching.
In the run up to this point, as well as at many times since being stuck in limbo, I was an absolute wreck. I find it really difficult to talk about such things, but writing about it is – for some reason – a little easier. I’ve had many days where I’ve just been in floods of tears. I’ve been angry, I’ve been sad, I’ve been heartbroken, I’ve been grateful, I’ve been stressed, I’ve been anxious, I’ve been depressed. I’ve pretty much been a roller coaster of emotions over the last four months.
Basically the only things getting me through all this have been my friends, my partner and my family. I honestly don’t know what I would have done, how much worse my situation would be, if it wasn’t for them. They have kept me sane, they’ve given me a place to live, they’ve called me, they’ve made me laugh, they’ve kept me company, they’ve comforted me, they’ve helped me in so so many ways I can’t even count.
I have to give a special mention here to Hela, my flatmate who I’ve never lived with because she moved into my flat after I became stuck in Thailand (which had been planned months earlier). She has spent hours on video calls with me, helping me to sort through all my things, organising and re-organising everything, selling things I wasn’t keeping, coordinating with other friends to sort out and pack my belongings, and generally being just an amazing friend. I really don’t know how I would have got all my stuff in Shenzhen sorted out and shipped if it wasn’t for her.
At this point, it doesn’t look like I’m going to be able to go back to Shenzhen before starting my new job in Myanmar. I’m really upset that after nearly nine years I’m not going to have the chance to say a proper goodbye to my friends, colleagues and the kids I’ve taught. Yes, I’m hoping to go back and visit once everything reopens, but it isn’t – it won’t be – the same. I loved living in Shenzhen; I had an amazing time there, met so many great people, did so many brilliant things and visited so many fantastic places. It’s such a shame it’s all ending like this. And I’m truly heartbroken.
Despite all the emotional turmoil I’ve been experiencing, there have been good things that have come out of all this. Here’s a few of the positives I’ve been trying to keep in mind during this whole thing:
I’ve started walking on a semi-regular basis, and I’ve walked a total of 182km since 13th April. Looking at this I’ve just realised if I walk another 18km in the next seven days that’ll make it 200km I’ll have walked in two months. Not bad going for someone who hates exercise, even if I do say so myself!
I’ve gotten back in touch with and had video chats with several friends who I hadn’t spoken to in years – one of whom I think it was nearly 20 years since we had an actual conversation rather than a Facebook chat! It’s been really lovely to catch up with people and have regular chats with people who I live thousands of miles away from.
Since I’ve stopped working, I’ve been using my time to study. I’m doing a Masters in Educational Leadership and Management through the University of Bath via distance learning, and I just have my dissertation left to complete. This has actually given me the time to concentrate on this and (hopefully) I can get most of it completed before I start my new job.
Other ups and downs have included the anniversary of the passing of both my maternal grandparents, the death of a close family friend, the nine year anniversary of announcing I was moving to China, and getting a new job in Myanmar as KS2 Coordinator (overseeing classes in years 3 to 6/ages 7 to 11 for non-teachers!). I’m very much looking forward to my new job and settling into my new home; I just hope the borders open in time for me to get there and finish any quarantine that’s required before I’m due to start at the beginning of August.
I haven’t been on social media much recently, simply because everything has been so crazy and I’ve been trying to get my head around a whole load of things. Now I’ve been in one place for a few days, here’s what’s been happening with me.
My school’s Chinese New Year holiday began on Saturday 18th January, and I flew to India on 21st January for a fantastic tour around loads of places with great friends. At the time the novel coronavirus was just starting to be a news item, but as it was a two hour flight away in Wuhan, we initially didn’t think it would affect us at all. I had a fantastic time in India; however, it was gradually overshadowed by the increasing number of cases spreading throughout China. In the third and final week of our holiday, our flights back to Shenzhen were cancelled and we were informed that our school would not be reopening on 10th February as planned.
At this point we all had to make decisions about what to do and where to go, which ended up being all different places. I continued with my original plan of visiting one of my good friends in Goa while I figured out what to do next. Autum suggested I go to stay with her in Kazakhstan, as then I wouldn’t have to pay for a hotel, so I booked a flight to Dubai and then on to Atyrau as it was about £200 cheaper to do it that way. Plus it meant I got to visit Dubai for a couple of days and go up the tallest building in the world.
However, things are never that straight forward of course. Autum’s work were concerned about me coming to visit as I live in China, even though by the time I would have arrived I would have been out of the country for nearly three weeks, and suggested I don’t come immediately. This was quite upsetting as it seemed really unreasonable at the time and left me slightly stranded. My flights then got cancelled as there was a time change which meant the connection didn’t work, but at least it meant I could get a full refund. However, I’d already booked a hotel in Dubai and tickets to watch the sunset from the 155th floor of the Burj Khalifa.
I booked a new flight to Dubai, and bid farewell to my friend in Goa. After lots of discussion and looking at options, I then flew to Bahrain for a few days. This gave me a base to work out of for a week of remote teaching which wasn’t too far from Dubai and so wasn’t too expensive to get to or stay in.
At this point we found out that school wasn’t going to reopen on 17th February, as per the first update we received, but was being pushed back again to 24th February due to requirements from the local government in Shenzhen. I had been wondering about this and hadn’t yet booked my outward flight from Bahrain, as I wasn’t sure if I would have to go straight back to China or if it would be better for me to stay out of the country for now. As it seemed that this whole situation wasn’t going to get better overnight, I booked a flight from Bahrain to Kazakhstan for the Friday of that week.
Bahrain seems like a lovely country, although I didn’t really get to see very much of it. The whole time I was there was the first week of remote teaching, and I had to do this using only my phone. When packing for India I had decided not to bring my laptop as I was fairly certain I wouldn’t be doing any work (school work or masters) during my travels. This meant that from the moment we found out that school wasn’t going to open on 10th Feb, halfway through the last week of our CNY holiday, we had to start planning for online teaching and learning. And I had to do all my planning, finding and making resources, recording and editing videos, uploading videos and resources, communicating with my year group colleagues, and checking and marking children’s work just using my phone.
All the things you have to do as a teacher take long enough as it is. Add to that: adapting everything for online learning, adapting teaching input to a series of under-5-minute videos to make sure they will actually upload, a constant stream of messages and emails about what we’re doing and how to do it, more messages about the changes happening in China, even more messages from parents concerned about their children’s education and what we’re doing about it, making lesson plans in word, making PowerPoints and pdfs for lessons and work for the children – and having to do it all using only a phone. As you may imagine, it all took rather a long time.
At this point in time many members of staff were in parts of the world and therefore time zones other than China, so staff were asked by school to be available from 2pm-8pm China time instead of the usual school day times. Bahrain is 5 hours behind China, which made it 9am-3pm for me; pretty reasonable times. However, as most of my colleagues were in China at this point I was waking up to around 200 messages every morning that first week. Once we started lessons and the children were uploading their work, I also had around 150 pieces of work to mark. Every day. Needless to say, I was working long after the time we were supposed to be available. Especially in the first couple of weeks, teaching online is so much more work than teaching in class. Everyone I have spoken to agrees with this. It’s so much easier actually being in school. On top of this some of the parents didn’t like the way we were teaching or the fact that school was closed, and started demanding that either they had a refund of the fees for semester 2 or the semester should be extended into the summer holiday. Of course, the teachers weren’t happy with this suggestion as we were all putting in more hours than we normally would be.
I managed to do a short tour of Bahrain on one day, by making my lesson videos and preparing everything the day before, and in between being constantly on my phone for work. Luckily, I was the only person on the tour so I could ask my tour guide, Ludmila, to repeat information if I missed anything she said! She was very accommodating, which was great. I saw the Tree of Life, the first oil well, Bahrain fort, the king’s camel farm, Al Fateh Grand Mosque, Bahrain National Museum, Bahrain Formula 1 track and Manama souq. It was a busy but interesting day!
On Friday 14th February, four days after school was supposed to open, I flew from Bahrain to Dubai to Almaty to Atyrau, finally arriving about 1am the next morning. Autum met me at the tiny airport with a borrowed winter coat, as I had gone from a balmy 20C to a slightly colder -5C. Atyrau in February is so cold that the river freezes over. When I visited last year we walked across the frozen Ural River and I stood on the line where Europe and Asia meet.
Week two of online teaching was considerably easier as I was able to borrow Autum’s laptop, and as the time difference was only 3 hours behind China I didn’t have quite as many work messages to wake up to. However, we had new requirements for online teaching from the Chinese Education Bureau and so had to change our timetable for that week to ensure we were meeting those requirements. This still meant making videos for every lesson, planning what we were doing, rewriting the planning into child-friendly instructions, having our Chinese Teaching Partners translate all the instructions into Chinese so the parents could read them too, making the resources and uploading everything to an online server for the parents to access. The first day of online teaching my TP had tried to email all the instructions and resources to all the parents – and her email had crashed. The school IT guy set up the online server as a solution, and that’s what we’ve been using ever since.
I felt much less stressed about the whole situation once I was staying with Autum. I’d been there before, so knew a few people as well as the place, and having a laptop to use for work made such a difference. Of course, the situation wasn’t done changing. The third week of online teaching we had another new timetable, still with video lessons as there were many staff and students still out of the country and so in different timezones.
At the end of the third week, we found out that we would be starting live online lessons the following Monday, 2nd March. This meant that I would begin teaching at 5am every day due to the time difference. The Education Bureau sent out information that the children should have a maximum of 2 hours online teaching per day in primary, with offline work also provided to follow on from the online lesson. This whole time I’d been in constant contact with my colleagues in Year 6 via WeChat, organising everything we had to do between us. (And I will say at this point that my colleagues have been awesome.) With the live lessons we were given the choice of using either a WeChat video platform or Zoom. As WeChat was only available in Chinese, we opted for Zoom!
Starting this whole process of teaching online was a complete baptism of fire. None of us had ever taken part in an online meeting system, let alone had any training. A lot of it was trial and error, at the same time as researching the best ways to do things, adapting our lessons, and trying to ensure that the students and parents were as happy as they could be, considering the difficult situation. What made the whole thing more difficult was the constant changes. Every week we were given different expectations for what and when we had to teach, and so a different timetable of lessons.
Once we started the online live lessons, it was really nice to see the kids again, have a chat with them and find out how they were doing. We got positive feedback from the parents as well, as they preferred the live lessons to video lessons, and the complaints and demands for a refund of fees stopped. For the second week of live online teaching, the number of lessons for the children increased to three per day, but as we were still limited to two hours online by the Education Bureau they had to be three 40 minute lessons back to back. Any offline work we set for the children had to then be completed after all the online lessons had finished.
On the Friday of week 4 of online teaching, and after we’d done all our planning for week 5, we were told there were more changes coming from the Education Bureau. These were supposed to start the following Monday, but as it was such short notice my school decided to keep with our then current plan of changing to three lessons each day for week 5 and start the new plan the week after on Monday 16th March. Previously, this date had been the proposed reopening date for school and all staff were encouraged to return before that date just in case. However, with the new information from the bureau it seemed that this was not to be.
Just to add to all the stress of teaching online, the constantly changing timetable, and the state of the world in general, I was only allowed to stay in Kazakhstan for 30 days and there was no way to extend my stay. This meant I had to leave by 14th March. Of course, this wasn’t going to be as straight forward as it should have been. 14th March was also the beginning of Autum’s spring break holiday, but due to the spreading virus her plans were cancelled as well. My original plan had been to fly to Thailand and stay with friends near Pattaya, so that I was closer to Shenzhen to make it easier to get back and the time difference was only an hour to make it easier for live online teaching. However, the day before I was due to fly, Thailand was added to the list of countries that meant a 14 day mandatory government quarantine upon arrival in China. So I had to decide whether to stick to my original plan and fly to Thailand regardless, fly somewhere else like Turkey or Uzbekistan that I could get a cheap or direct flight to from Atyrau and then return to Atyrau (although by many people would be there then due to the holiday) and start my 30 days again, or go from there back to China but with no guarantee that that country wouldn’t be added to the list before my return to China and therefore I’d still have to quarantine. Plus somehow making sure that I still had access to wifi and enough technology that I could teach my lessons (hence the original plan of going to stay with friends who could lend me a laptop).
After visiting a travel agent who contacted the immigration office for me to check I definitely couldn’t stay longer than 30 days in Kazakhstan, and the airline office to see if I could change or cancel my flight (I couldn’t without a fee and/or losing ask the money I’d paid for the flight), and having conversations with Autum and other friends about what to do, I decided to keep to my original plan of going to Thailand as I figured that wherever I went at that point is probably have to quarantine when I got back to China anyway, and at least that way I’d be with friends, the time difference would only be an hour and I could borrow a laptop for my lessons.
About an hour before my taxi to the airport for my flight to Bangkok, Autum decided she would come with me. Her dog was already being looked after as she was originally supposed to be away for two weeks, and she decided she didn’t want to just stay in Atyrau for the whole two weeks with very few people around. She quickly packed her backpack and we headed to the airport for the first flight to Almaty. When we arrived there and went through to the departure lounge, there was quite a while when we were the only passengers in the whole departure area – the only other people were staff. Then just to freak us out even more, the hands on the main clock on the wall started whizzing around!
The second flight and our arrival in Bangkok went without any further drama. We simply had a temperature check once in the airport and were asked to download the app for the airport to keep up to date with changes. The car I’d organised was waiting for us and a little over an hour later we arrived at my friends James and Nat’s place just outside Pattaya. Unfortunately, the laptop I was going to borrow died but as Autum had come with me I could continue borrowing hers for the time being.
The day after we arrived there was an announcement by the Kazakhstan government that they were going to close the country’s borders the next day at 8am, meaning people could leave but no-one could enter until at least 15th April. This meant Autum couldn’t go back at the end of her spring break. James and Nat had kindly said we could stay as long as we needed to; however, neither of us wanted to impose on them for longer than necessary. We just needed to figure out what to do.
My family suggested I go back to the UK, but at this point there were restrictions in place for people arriving from abroad and I’d have nowhere to quarantine. Plus my parents and sister are all in the high risk group, so I wouldn’t want to put them at risk by staying with them, and with live online teaching I’d have to teach from midnight until 8am every day, which would be horrendous. I decided I would go back to Shenzhen as now things were starting to open up again as the only cases were imported. However, it turns out that getting back to China is not as easy as I had hoped.
I wanted a direct flight to Shenzhen as it’s only about 3 hours and usually not very expensive, and this would save me the hassle of going through Hong Kong when all but one border is closed. When I looked at flights the earliest direct ones weren’t until the last couple of days of March, and the prices and times were ridiculous. The first flight which was a reasonable price and was at a time that ensured I didn’t miss any of my online classes was on 1st April, so I booked it and let my work know what I was planning on doing. A couple of days later I was checking that everything was still ok with my flight; I found out that my flight no longer existed. As I’d booked through an intermediary, it took them a couple of days to catch up, but I had already decided not to wait and looked for a new flight to Shenzhen. There weren’t any.
At the same time, Hong Kong had just announced that they would only be letting in Hong Kong residents, meaning I couldn’t fly into HK either. That left me with one option – to fly into Guangzhou, the next city to Shenzhen. I booked a flight for Friday 27th March, again so it wouldn’t affect my online teaching time.
While I was dealing with this, Autum decided she would go to Hawaii to stay with her parents until she could go back to Kazakhstan. Initially there was no rush to get back by a particular date, as she was still on holiday, but then Hawaii announced a mandatory 14 day quarantine for everyone on arrival from Thursday 26th March. In order to get back before that so she could self quarantine instead, she booked a flight for Wednesday. Just to add to the stress of flying under the circumstances, when she got to the airport the majority of flights were being cancelled. Luckily, hers was not, and she successfully boarded the plane from Bangkok to Hawaii via Tokyo.
In the meantime, the Thai government started introducing various restrictions to curb the spread of the virus. Whilst Autum was in the air, I found out that if I waited until Friday to go to Bangkok I might not make it there at all as starting Thursday people would not be allowed to travel between provinces. Thinking it wouldn’t be a good idea to get stuck and miss my flight, I booked a hotel near the airport for two nights, and a car to get me there. I finished my lessons for the day, packed, and hung out with James and Nat for a little while before getting the car to my home for the next couple of days.
So this is where I am now, watching the occasional plane land and take off as I eat a late dinner, hoping my flight on Friday will go ahead and enable me to get back to China, and wondering what awaits me when I arrive there.
Time certainly does fly! I’ve been so busy at work this week that I didn’t realise the date. One of my very good friends is getting married on Sunday and I’m lucky enough to be able to go. I didn’t end up packing until today (Friday), and I’m flying now! It was all fine though, and I even ended up getting to HK airport ridiculously early. I’m currently on the first plane waiting for take-off from HK to Seoul.
I had a very big (in shopping terms) dilemma earlier. I’m not usually one for brand names, however I love Kipling bags. They’re sturdy, long-lasting, functional and classy/fun. The first one I ever bought lasted me more than ten years before one of the zips went funny, so they may be a little more than I’d usually pay for things but the quality is definitely worth it. Anyway, there’s a Kipling shop in HK airport, before you go through to departures, and they had certain items on sale with 30% off. One of my bags is starting to fall apart so I’ve been thinking for a while about replacing it. I always said with this challenge that it’s fine for me to replace items that have worn out as long as I get rid of said items and don’t keep both. Of course there was a really lovely bag with 30% off and a very helpful sales assistant who let me check that my tablet fit in the bag, and I very nearly said yes, I’ll take it.
But then I thought about this challenge I’ve set myself and how the whole point is to downsize and reduce the amount I spend on things that I actually don’t really need. I really liked that bag, and I would have used it and got rid of my old bag, but I don’t really need it. So I walked away. And – much as I still really like that bag – I know that I made the right choice because my old bag still has a bit of life left in it, plus I have other bags of different sizes that I can make do with.
Now I’m sitting on a plane heading to the US for what I’m sure will be a fantastic wedding, and I have lost nothing by not buying that bag. So many times we give in to impulses – not that that’s always bad, mind you! – for things we don’t need, we just crave in the moment. If you can get past that moment you will find there’s very few things you regret buying; more often people regret what they haven’t done, not what they didn’t buy.
Now it’s a few days later and I need to catch up on posting this so I can start on this week’s post!
Spending for week 12 consisted of food, drinks, transport, a trip to the cinema to see Pacific Uprising (not bad, bit of light entertainment), plus playing football (along with hiring the pitch) and a night out for a friend’s birthday. Yes, people who know me, I played football. Willingly. And it was the most fun I’ve ever had playing football! Total costs for week 12: 2,349rmb / £265.
Week 13 ended up being almost the same amount: 1498.6rmb + HK$604 (483rmb) + US$43.50 (274rmb) = 2255.6rmb / £255. This included a food shop, dinner out, getting my hair cut and dyed, drinks, transport, getting to HK airport, dinner at Pizza Express in HK airport, and transport from Atlanta airport. I’ve been staying in a shared house with friends and my friend’s family, which has been really lovely. This means we’ve shared the cost of groceries for the house, transport around and days out. My share of the house I paid for quite a while ago, and it was only £122 for 6 nights. I’ll write more in my next post about where we’ve been and what we’ve done as week 13 ended the day after I arrived.
Over a quarter of the year has flown by already and I’ve pretty much kept to my original challenge rules, with only one or two tweaks where necessary to ensure I could stick to it without compromising my social life. I’ve not bought any ‘stuff’, although I’ve been quite tempted on occasion, and I’ve only had takeaway once (McDonald’s when I was drunk!).
Another week has been and gone. Time certainly flies when you’re running around at work and hanging out with your friends!
Last week was a bit of an expensive one for Shenzhen (although still cheaper than most of my recent holiday! You can check out my musings on New Orleans here, Miami here and Costa Rica here.). This was mostly due to it being a good friend’s birthday and St Patrick’s Day all rolled into one. My spending for Saturday ended up being 963rmb (£110), although this included laser tag, food, taxis to Shekou and back (about 70rmb/£8 each way), a food shop which I haven’t done for ages (muesli, yoghurt, veg and the like), and of course, lots of drinks on the pub crawl in the evening!
My total spending for the week including that was 2419rmb (£275), so 1456rmb (£165) on all food and transport the rest of the week, including eating out with friends three out of five nights (one meal, mala tang, was only 20rmb/£2.30 including a soft drink!).
One other item that hiked up my spending for the week was medication. Something I don’t talk about very often is that I suffer from depression and have done on and off for years. Currently I’m all good, which I expect is to do with the medication I’m on as much as how great my life is at the moment. This means I want to keep taking the antidepressants in order to maintain that oft-precarious balance. Of course, China doesn’t have the amazing NHS, so my work pays for health insurance for all staff. Luckily my medication is covered, but we’ve just changed insurance companies due to increased fees. Whereas before the full cost of visits to the doctor and medication were covered, now there’s a 20% co-pay, meaning I have to pay for 20% of the cost. For a one month supply of antidepressants I had to pay 399rmb (£45). Yes, £45 for 20%, meaning (in case you can’t be bothered to do the maths) £225 for the whole amount. For one month. That included seeing the doctor for about 2 minutes to get a repeat prescription, with a consultation fee of 300rmb (£34).
Some people complain about the 20p rise to £8.80 for a prescription charge on the NHS, with a free visit to the doctor included. If you didn’t appreciate the NHS before, you certainly do when living abroad! My advice would be to treasure the NHS and do whatever you can to make sure it doesn’t get privatised. Otherwise you might end up paying £225 every time you go to the doctors.
Whilst I may have spent more than intended this week, I’ve still not bought any ‘stuff’, and my birthday presents to people are staying as treats, meals or activities, so I count that as a successful week.
If you have any thoughts or comments about anything I talk about, please let me know!
Although I’ve relaxed my budget for food while I’m travelling, I’m still trying to stick to the ‘no buying stuff’ aspect of my challenge. So far the only things I’ve spent money on in Costa Rica have been food, accommodation and transport, and I’m going to try and keep it that way.
I’ve been here almost a week with my best friend from home, E, and it’s been fantastic. Although it’s less expensive than the US was, I’ve still spent a fair amount as we’ve been eating out for almost every meal and doing lots of fun stuff.
We began the week, having just arrived in Playa Chiquita near Puerto Viejo, Limón, heading to the nearest beach with the best reviews – Punta Uva. One of the staff at the lodge we were staying at persuaded one of his friends to drive us there when there were no taxis available. This turned out to be a fortunate turn of events for us as he was a font of information about Puerto Viejo. He recommended places with the best coffee, the best Asian food, the atm with the shortest queue and various other useful titbits. The journey from where we were staying to one of only three ATMs in Puerto Viejo, back past where we were staying to Punta Uva and Arrecife Beach (definitely the best beach in the area) cost 10,000 Colones or $17.50 between us. Not bad for a 30-odd minute journey with free advice.
We then spent some time at the most stunning beach with warm, clear water, which was just perfect.
Since I wrote the first part of this post I’ve been busy doing holiday stuff, so I’m going to summarise my spending for the rest of this week. Otherwise it’s going to take a long, long time and I’ll just end up repeating what I’m writing on my post about my travels. If you’d like to find out more about what I did in Costa Rica, please have a look at my other blog posts here and here!
To summarise, all my money this week was spent on: taxis and tuktuks to and from the beach, restaurants and various places we explored; food and drink; cocktails; entry to the Jaguar Rescue Centre; horse riding along the beach and through the jungle with Caribe Horse Riding Club; transport from one side of Costa Rica to the other and back to the airport; accommodation; and tattoos.
I managed to resist the urge to buy things by telling myself they were all things I didn’t actually need, which is true, so almost all my spending was on food or transport apart from my various holiday activities.
Saturday we had half a day in Miami. Since we’d met up, we’d been talking about getting tattoos together (E’s idea!): as a memento of our trip, our friendship and a significant birthday this year for both of us. It would be E’s first tattoo and my 12th. After trying – and failing – to find somewhere to get the tattoos in Puerto Viejo where we were staying, I looked into tattoo artists in Miami. I found an article about the top ten artists in Miami and emailed a couple of places on the list who weren’t too far out of our way, to find out whether they’d be able to do what we wanted in the time we had available. Only one place came through, and it just so happened to be Love Hate Tattoo, where Miami Ink was filmed a few years ago! This made the tattoos even more special and everything went according to plan (even if that meant getting very little sleep. Stupid flight times). This, of course, has added a significant amount to my spending this week ($262.50/£190), however, I’m much happier spending that money on a beautiful tattoo with a beautiful person than on more stuff that I don’t really need.
My last stop this week was Bolinas, California, a lovely little town where my aunt and uncle live. My uncle picked me up from the airport on Saturday evening then treated me to entry to see a reggae band at the local community centre and a glass (well, tin cup) of wine.
Sunday was very chilled out. After breakfast I took a stroll into town taking a few photos on the way. I had lunch ($37) at the Coast Cafe – the only restaurant in town – bumped into my aunt by the People’s Store, met up with my uncle, bought a few food items (my uncle paid) and went back to the house for the evening.
My total spending for the week was $579.62 (£415) plus $222 (£160 between us) on our accommodation for the week, plus the tattoos. Not too bad for a week full of fantastic food, awesome adventures and gorgeous scenery!
Monday was pretty good as far as not spending money went. It was my flatmate’s turn to pay for the taxi to work and I walked home. Dinner was leftovers from the meal I cooked last night, so no money spent there either!
Today (Tuesday) I spent a little money going to Dongmen (by metro) to try and buy some wool. I have a plan to make something for someone but I don’t want to say what in case the person reads this! Unfortunately I didn’t manage to find any wool at all, let alone the type I was looking for, despite walking for close to two hours and hunting through three fabric malls as well as lots of small streets and shops. On the plus side, I definitely beat my daily steps target of 8000! And instead of buying things i can probably make do without, i only spent the metro fare there and back (4.75rmb) plus the cost of a can of apple vinegar (not what it sounds like! Kind of like appletise with a little more sourness for 5rmb). I think I’ll have to go to plan B for my secret project.
This evening is my writers workshop and I have a new plan for going to Costa (which is where we meet) without spending money. It was only when I started doing this and recording how much I spent when I went there that I realised how expensive it is. My new plan is to bring a reusable mug/flask with a lid (is there a proper name for those?) and just ask for hot water when I get there. People who know me will now be thinking, ‘But she doesn’t like water!’, and you’d be correct! Which is where the sneaky part of my plan comes in (if I remember) – to bring my own teabag with me.
Is that wrong??
Update: Karma just told me it’s wrong! Just burnt my mouth on the scalding hot water because I forgot to ask them to add a little cold water. I then had to go back and ask for cold water in a cup because I’d already added my peppermint teabag and couldn’t take it out as I had nowhere to put it. Maybe next time I’ll bring my own cup but buy the tea here. What do you think?
I worked late on Wednesday, totalling around 12 hours at school, as we have reports all due in very soon. They’re not difficult to write just very time consuming. I was very tempted to jump in a taxi home and order food, but I resisted the urge and walked home. I then had the thought of seeing if anyone was at The Brew (pretty much my local) as I fancied a glass of wine after all those reports, and I walk past it on my way home. Luckily for my purse no-one was there and by the time I finished my 45 minute walk home all I wanted to do was have some food, watch an episode of ‘The Gifted’ and go to bed. I had also decided what to have for dinner – M&S pea and mint soup that had been sitting in my cupboard for a while – so I walked via the local Bread Talk and picked up some fresh bread to dunk in it. Some of the new buns and things looked really good (white chocolate and cranberry roll) but I resisted those and instead got some cheesy bread to dip in my soup and plain white bread (not sweet!) for making toasties (total 21rmb).
Halfway through the week and I’ve spent just under 50rmb! The expensive day will be Saturday when I’ve got a night out planned.
It’s now Sunday and after doing so well at the beginning of the week it went slightly awry for the rest of it! I ended up eating out not just once but on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Ooops. Thursday we had D&D for the first time in 3 weeks and as I felt like I hadn’t properly seen my friends recently we went for food between work and D&D. Friday I was invited to HK for dinner by a friend who lives there. I spent a total of HK$252 which is 203.75rmb or £22.78 which was just getting there and back plus dinner. I again resisted the urge to buy lovely food in M&S!
As I’d predicted, Saturday was my most expensive day. My friend in HK came over so we went out for dinner before going to the Saturgays event I already had a ticket for. I ended up spending 525.5rmb (£58.74) which covered taxis, dinner, drinks and McDonald’s at about 5am!
Sunday I showed my friend around Dongmen, an area of Shenzhen known for cheap shopping. The only thing either of us bought was food, which was pretty cheap as it was all street food. It was 2.85rmb (32p) on the metro each way plus I spent 30rmb (£3.35) on a strawberry toffee stick, chestnut rice baozi (steamed bread dumplings) and 5 garlic & rice noodle-topped scallops. The only other cost today was the taxi to and from the border when my ground my friend went back to HK, which was 40.5rmb (£4.53) there and back.
My total spending for this week is eerily close to how much I spent last week, completely unintentionally. Last week I spent 1094.79rmb (£122.38), this week’s total is 1095.1rmb (£122.42) – only 0.31rmb (4p) difference!
Review at the end of my first 4 weeks: it’s been quite easy so far not to buy ‘stuff’, although it has made me think twice every time there’s been an opportunity to buy something and I’ve stopped myself buying things I don’t really need. The hardest part is not ordering take out food as it’s so easy to do here. I failed on that front last night/this morning when we ordered McDonald’s delivery, but I blame the alcohol for that lapse! That’s the first time I’ve ordered take out this year though, and considering I used to order food or pick some takeaway up on my way home from work probably at least 4 or 5 times a week before I started this challenge, I think that’s pretty good going. The other hard part is only eating out once a week, as you may have gathered. That’s one of the things my friends and I often do when we hang out together, so I’m actually missing people. That’s why I ended up eating out so many times this week, plus my friend coming over from HK of course.
I think I’m going to amend my eating out rule so I’m not missing out on seeing my friends: I can eat out as long as my total spending for the week doesn’t go over 1000rmb (£111.79). What do you think – does that sound reasonable?
Monday started out pretty well. I usually have tai chi after school, which I had already paid for in advance and still have one lesson left after this. So I decided I would get a taxi to work with my flatmate (18.5rmb) and walk home instead.
I then met up with friends I hadn’t seen since way before Christmas for my once-a-week meal out, which was great. We went to a different place than usual and I got the metro rather than a taxi there, which made it 2.85rmb to get to Baishizhou instead of the 20 ish it would have been by taxi. It wasn’t too expensive a meal out either, with a total of 150rmb for all food and drinks I had. Another bonus was I got my Secret Santa present! I was away over Christmas in Johannesburg, so didn’t get to exchange gifts with my friends on Christmas Eve. Instead it was a pleasant surprise as I’d completely forgotten about it. I got a lovely watch, a proper fountain pen and ink set and an antique-style notebook. I know I said that I’d be getting rid of things this year, but as this was arranged a long time before I even thought of this challenge, I’m not counting this!
Tuesday I managed to only spend shared taxi fare from work to a friends’ apartment for games night, then another shared taxi fare to get home, totalling 12.5rmb.
Wednesday was more expensive as I bought 2 containers of protein shake because I’d almost run out. Unfortunately the shop I usually get it from on Taobao (the best website for shopping in China) had closed, which meant paying more than I was expecting – 408rmb. It seems like a lot I know, but that’s basically all my breakfasts and lunches for about 6 weeks, so it works out quite reasonable overall.
Thursday would have only been 10rmb for a glass of wine at our work social ‘sausage sizzle’ (I had jacket potatoes), except that as I was walking home I came across some friends at The Brew, which is one of our regular haunts. I ended up spending 90rmb on wine, mostly because my friend kept ordering another glass for me!
The only money I spent on Friday was the taxi to get to work, so I did pretty well then, and I cooked dinner for myself with food I had in the cupboard (noodles with peas, sweetcorn and leeks, and of course cheese on top).
Now you may be wondering what happened to my plan of walking to work every day. This week we’ve had really bad pollution; it was 234 AQI at the start of the week – very unhealthy. This is because the factories have all upped production to get their targets met before they close for the Chinese New Year holiday, and it’s the same every year. The pollution levels got better as each day went on throughout the week, so I walked home instead of to work instead, apart from Tuesday when we went straight to a friend’s and Wednesday when I walked part of the way with my Head teacher then she made me get the metro instead of walking as the pollution level was still too high. At least I managed 3 days of walking! Hopefully back to the mornings again next week, depending on the pollution levels.
The only money I spent on Saturday was going to a friend’s surprise birthday party (and he was genuinely surprised!), which added up to 222.54rmb for taxis there, to KTV and home, paying for KTV and putting in for the fab birthday cake we got. Not too bad really for a night out!
Sunday was very chilled out. I spent most of the day in bed reading (Origin by Dan Brown) and just popped to the market across the road to buy some veg. A large head of broccoli, a large white onion, a bulb of garlic, a red pepper, a corn cob (with the corn cut off it), a leek and a courgette came to the grand total of 29rmb. Friends came round for dinner and a movie, and as I’d been going to cook for myself anyway I cooked for them too – pasta with pesto, pepper, courgette and leek. There was even enough left for my dinner tomorrow.
My total spending for this week came to 1094.79rmb, which is about £123. Better than last week but still not as good as my first week (when I didn’t go out at all). Although that’s with going out 3 times, and I resisted buying food I didn’t need, so not too bad overall.
I don’t think there’s any birthdays next week, so hopefully it’ll be cheaper again!
Today (Monday) started out really well. I walked to work, got stuff done at work and was all set to stay late and write reports when I found out my lodger in my apartment in the UK has moved out. Yes, moved out. Apparently she emailed me noticed on 1st December but I haven’t received anything. This is the first I’ve heard about it, and only because I texted her asking where the rent was. Gah!
My first instinct was to go out for food and drinks with friends in order to complain and bitch about the whole situation and what an awful lodger she’s been the entire time she’s lived there. However, I remembered my challenge and that I have a couple (or five) bottles of wine at home. Instead, I posted an ad for my apartment (which cost 324.6rmb), got a taxi home (much too cold and wet to walk, even from the bus station), then poured myself a nice large glass of merlot. It was tempting to just say ‘sod it’ and order pizza, as I really wasn’t in the mood for cooking, but instead I raided the cupboard, chucked out a few things that were way out of date (best before 2015!), and went for the good old classic tomato soup (from M&S in HK).
A nice glass of wine and bowl of soup (with added cheese) soon warmed me up, and a few messages to my sister and a video call to my parents made me feel much better.
It’s amazing how quickly we turn to material things to comfort us when angry, stressed or upset. I wonder where that comes from originally?
It’s now Sunday and this has turned out to be a very expensive week compared to last week! I still haven’t bought any ‘stuff’, so that’s good at least, but I have eaten out four times (twice today), and for some reason had to top my phone up again (200rmb).
The other two times were for my flatmate’s birthday: one on Thursday which was her actual birthday (144.4rmb), and one on Saturday which was the official night out with a group of us (237.7rmb). This was followed by a few drinks at one of the regular places we go to (120rmb) and of course a taxi home (23rmb).
I spent today in Hong Kong meeting two different friends, one for lunch and the other for dinner. My usual thing when I go to HK is to buy lots of lovely food from M&S. However, this time I didn’t buy anything, even though I went in the store not just once, but twice! Once with each friend – the first is American and hadn’t heard of M&S but is now a convert; the second is British and was trying to persuade me to buy something, but I managed to resist.
The first expense of the day, other than getting to HK was lunch. After a bit of a detour to a restaurant that turned out to not have much choice of veggie food, we went to a really good Mexican in Wan Chai for lunch (Agave, not Coyote, which is almost opposite). Eating out at Western restaurants in HK is always expensive, and this was no exception at a total of HK$551 (about £51) for 2 main meals, 2 soft drinks and chips with salsa. I ended up paying only HK$190 though as my friend insisted she’d eaten all the chips and salsa so I had to pay less.
After lunch we took a short metro ride to Admiralty station where we went to Hong Kong Park and the Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware (free admission), which actually had some really interesting information about Chinese tea and the tea ware to go with it dating back to about 1100BC. We then had a wander around the park, which is really lovely if you haven’t been, then went and found a cafe in the nearby shopping mall for a short sit down and a cuppa (HK$38).
After this my friend headed to her hostel for an early night as she’d just flown in this morning ridiculously early, and is only in HK for two days. I went in the opposite direction to meet my other friend who lives in HK. As neither of us were particularly hungry we ended up deciding to have dessert for dinner at a place called ‘Sweetish’ by Honeymoon Cafe, a well-known dessert cafe in Asia. My friend recommended I try a specialty of the place, and I’m always willing to try new things (within reason!), so I had mango pomelo sago soup (which is cold). Strange sounding to us foreigners, I know, but it was actually really good. I’d never had a sweet soup before. It was kind of like eating melted mango ice cream. I would definitely have it again, and try other dessert soups.
We wandered around the shopping mall chatting some more before I had to head back to the metro to catch the last-but-one train back to the border. My final spend of this week was for the taxi home, the reasonable sum of 19.5rmb.
The final total for this week is 1163.5rmb plus HK$536.1 (some of which I already had in cash left over from my last HK trip, the rest I got out of my HK account), which is a total of about £181 – almost six times what I spent last week! On the plus side, I didn’t buy any ‘stuff’ and I resisted the urge to buy really tasty but unnecessary food from M&S, which probably made it my cheapest trip to HK ever. Next week will hopefully be cheaper!
This week has gone pretty well, aside from the hangover on Day 1! On Day 2 I did a sort out and got rid of a few items of clothes to start off my de-cluttering. Days 3, 4 and 5 were back to work, and I successfully walked to work every day. I cooked dinner for myself for the first time in (I think) months – pasta with sweet potato, red peppers, broccoli and red pesto – and very nice it was too, even if I do say so myself. I ended up making 5 portions, so that was dinner Thursday sorted plus 3 portions in the freezer for another day.
Day 4 (Thursday) was D&D night (Dungeons & Dragons for the uninitiated). Instead of doing my regular thing and having dinner at a restaurant with friends between the end of work and the start of D&D, I went home and ate portion 2 of the pasta I cooked Wednesday. This saved me around 200-250rmb, although it did cost me 35rmb in taxis home and out again. Still, overall saving definitely wins!
On Friday I got my Christmas goodies parcel from my parents – very exciting! So much great stuff, mostly edible, like monster munch crisps, caramacs, orange daim bars, curly wurlys and plenty more. This should definitely keep me going for a while!
I had planned to have my one meal out a week on Friday for a friend’s leaving do who’s moving back to the UK next week. I was absolutely shattered after work after getting up at 5.30am every morning to walk to work, plus jetlag, so I thought I’d have about an hour’s nap before meeting everyone. I fell asleep around 6pm… and woke up about 10am Saturday morning! I can’t believe I slept for over 15 hours! I guess the jetlag really caught up with me.
The rest of the weekend I did very little apart from go and see the new Star Wars movie (no spoilers here, don’t worry!), catch up a bit with friends, catch up with Supergirl season 3 and Black Mirror season 4, eat some of the tasty goodies my parents sent, and sleep more.
I think my first week of my No Shopping Challenge has gone pretty well, apart from having to buy another pair of 3D glasses to watch Star Wars as I’d completely not thought of it being in 3D and so hadn’t brought any with me.
Here’s my total spending for my first week:
1st January Nothing (New Year’s Eve doesn’t count!)
3rd Bus fare home from work 3rmb
4th Phone top up 100rmb
5th Bus fare 3rmb
6th Toilet paper 30.5rmb
Whole fresh pineapple 19.61rmb
Cinema (Star Wars) 40rmb
3D glasses 15rmb
Glass of red wine 45rmb