No Shopping Challenge Week 11

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.

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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!

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No Shopping Challenge Week 10

Back in Shenzhen and back to work after a fantastic three week holiday for Chinese New Year.

Which of course meant I was wiped out after work on Monday so the only money I spent was 2.4rmb on the bus home. Tuesday I had a bit more energy and time so I used these to catch up with friends over dinner (363rmb/£41 – more expensive than we thought it would be!) at as little Spanish place called Mambo. I also used some of my time to pay for the deposit and book accommodation for Summer School, where I will be studying for my MA Education which I’ve just started. I’m not counting the cost of the MA in my ‘no shopping challenge’ as this was already arranged before I came up with the challenge idea. I am, however, going to buy as few books as possible and instead read them online through the university library.

Wednesday was another catch-up dinner followed by the local pub quiz, which we actually won! We won 1000rmb of vouchers for The Brew between 7 of us, so 100rmb each plus a drink each next time. Not bad, even if I do say so myself! Total spending for all drinks and dinner for both of us that night was 548rmb (£62).

Usually on Thursday I go to D&D, but unfortunately I ended up going home early from work with a migraine. I guess the plus side to this was that I didn’t spend any money on dinner, instead sleeping for most of the rest of the day and then just managing toast. My only outgoings were the taxi to and from work (37.5rmb/£4.25 both ways) and 100rmb (£11.30) to top up my phone.

On Friday I had to stock up on muesli and yoghurt (67.4rmb/£7.65) as I finished the last of it for breakfast. A small group of us decided to go and see ‘Black Panther’ at the cinema after work as it was the first day of its release in China – and for 35rmb (£4) it was definitely worth it! This time I even remembered to bring my 3D glasses so I didn’t have to buy a new pair! Of course, we had to have dinner before the movie as well: shrimp quesadillas, chips and bogof cocktails for 153.6rmb (£17.45) at Blue Frog was pretty good.

My final night out for the week was on Saturday, and this time there was no alcohol involved! A friend had arranged a movie night at a private cinema for a group of us – 63rmb/£7 for 4 hours in a comfy room with a group of friends watching movies – it was great, and really nice to do something a bit different. I would definitely recommend it.

Sunday came round much too quickly as usual. I woke up quite early but stayed in bed reading for a few hours before finally deciding I was too hungry to stay in bed any longer. Once again I resisted the urge to order takeout, and raided the freezer instead for my last frozen meal from previous cooking escapades. I spent the rest of the day alternating between studying and watching ‘Legends of Tomorrow’, which meant I spent no money at all (and stayed in my pyjamas all day).

My total spending for week 10 was 1442.4rmb (£164.50) plus the accommodation and deposit for Summer School. Still no takeaway or stuff!

No Shopping Challenge Week 2

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?

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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!

Exciting News!

I’d like to start with a non-apology! I haven’t posted anything on here for a while, and there’s a good reason for that…

I’ve been contracted as a writer!

So exciting!

My new website has just gone live: http://www.BASEDtravelershenzhen.com

I’m working for a company called BASEDtraveler which has expat-local writers in different locations around the world (at the moment England, Germany, South Korea and now China). We don’t just write about life as an expat, but also offer advice, ideas for excursions, useful information, hints and tips, how-to guides and more.

Please check it out and spread the word!

Also if you have any ideas or suggestions about what else you’d like to see on the site, please send me a message.

I will still be writing about my own travels on here as well (I still need to finish my Summer Adventure series) but it will be less often now. However, I’ll be publishing something every Sunday on my new website.

You can also find me and BASEDtraveler on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.

B.emusing A.dventure S.ought E.very D.ay

End of the Year, Beginning of an Adventure

I can’t believe the end of the (academic) year is finally here. After a sixteen week semester with no break, numerous crises both emotional and political, a graduation ceremony to arrange, SATs exams to do and work towards, and many, many other things, I’ve finally made it to the end of the year.  This semester has probably been the most stressful and difficult since I moved to China. (At work, not at home.) There has been so much drama going on, most of which is completely unnecessary, along with management politics, rumours and whatnot – and that’s just the staff!

It really doesn’t feel like I’ve had a last day with my kids. Usually there’s much more of a feel of ‘now we’re on holiday’, but today just feels a bit ‘meh’. This afternoon felt really rushed at the end; I forgot to give the kids some of their work that had been on display, and then my last three kids were helping me take down things from the walls and didn’t want to leave! Also – and I’m not saying this because I expect anything, more because of the difference in culture between China and the UK – I didn’t get any presents from my class. Nothing.

I’m assuming that their parents thought putting on a show for us year 6 teachers and buying us dinner was enough of a present. Which is absolutely fine – they went all out for us, singing, dancing, even a magic show! So please don’t take this as a complaint – it was lovely. It’s just that this is the first class I’ve had absolutely no presents from at the end of the year, and I like to have something to remember them by, whether it’s a mug, a photo or a handmade card. Anyway.

A couple of days ago I finally booked the last few details for my epic summer adventure.  Only in the last couple of days have I allowed myself to become excited about the trip. Although it still doesn’t seem real.

So here’s the plan…

On Sunday I fly to Beijing with two of my friends, E & L. We then have two full days to sightsee (although I’ve been there before so may do different things to my friends who have never been) before getting on the Trans-Mongolian Express train to Ulan-Bator in Mongolia. We have a few days there which includes a city tour and a homestay in a ger for two nights, before getting back on the train to Irkutsk, Russia. Again a few days there before getting on the Trans-Siberian Express, crossing the Siberian wilderness, stopping in Yekaterinburg for a couple of days before arriving in Moscow. All of this, including excursions, we booked through Real Russia; the representative who booked everything for us has been fantastic.

We decided that we’ll go straight to St Petersburg from Moscow so as to catch the last weekend of the White Nights Festival – that time of year when they have 24 hours of daylight and many events happening. We’ve already booked tickets to see Madam Butterfly and the Atrium string quartet performing Beethoven, and I’m sure there will a lot more going on besides. We will then return to Moscow to see the sights and spend a few days there before L leaves us to fly back to the UK. Myself and E are going to continue on by train across Europe – Moscow to Kiev, Lviv, Krakow, Prague, Vienna, Munich, Paris, London. That will then give me about ten days at home in the UK to see my family and friends and catch up with people.

As I said, an epic adventure!

I just hope everything goes according to plan and we don’t have any major fallings out on our trip. Having said that, I have all the tickets as I booked all the trains, so they have to stay on my good side! 😉

Tomorrow is my last day at school this year – without the kids this time.  This gives us chance to say goodbye to those staff who are leaving and we have a nice buffet lunch together, which is nice as the last day with the kids is usually manic.

Now I just need to pack…

Blocked

writers-block

I’ve been trying to finish my blog about Cape Town for three weeks now.  I’ve written about half of it so far, with notes for the second half, but every time I sit down at it I can’t seem to come up with anything to write.

Today I decided to write about not being able to write because then at least I’m writing something.  My New Year’s resolution to write a little every day, or at least twice a week, has been harder to keep than I thought it would be.

5ab4982b3ef2b82c5a5921f2e1039b95Part of this ‘writer’s block’, if that’s the appropriate name, is that I’ve been feeling quite stressed and down recently.  I’ve suffered from depression on and off for years, and it’s a subject I find really hard to talk about.  Although some of my close friends and family know that about me, there are still many people that don’t know, and at the moment I’d quite like to keep it that way.  2fFnkx9The stigma surrounding mental illness has improved greatly, however there’s still lots of prejudice and many misconceptions out there.  I don’t want people’s opinions of me to change because of something I can’t control (which I know I shouldn’t care about, but I do).  I also don’t want the inevitable comments from people: “But you’re always so cheerful and positive,”, “You’re never in a bad mood,”, “I’m sure you’ll feel better in a few days,”, “You just need to pull yourself together,”, “But you have such a good life/so much,”, “There’s so many other people worse off than you,”, etc, etc, etc. Having said that, this is (apparently – and it’s a surprise to me too) my attempt to talk about it. Feel free to weigh in with your opinion.

I think part of the reason I’m wary of telling people here and at work is that I live in China, where mental illness is even more of a taboo subject than in the Western world.  This makes it uphill3_ldifficult even to go to the doctor, especially as there are so few clinics or hospitals where the doctors speak English (and this is not something I want to have to have translated by a colleague) and the medical insurance I have from work covers only certain places. (There’s no NHS in China!  While I’m on the subject, if you’re in/from the UK and you haven’t signed the petition to stop the privatisation of the NHS please click here or here.)

In addition, we were just told at work (I’m a teacher in an international school) that our week’s holiday in May has been cancelled by the Education Bureau and we’re only allowed to have one day off in line with Chinese public schools (even though we’re not a Chinese public school).  I know there’s nothing the school can do about it, and they’re going to try and arrange for us to finish a week earlier for the summer holiday, but it means that we now have a ridiculously long stretch (15 or 16 weeks) Holiday-Cancellationswith only two 3 day weekends as a break – and it’s not me I’m concerned about as much as the kids who won’t be getting a break, especially when some of them have exams in May (I also feel for the people who had booked holidays for that week and may now lose their money). I’m so glad I hadn’t got around to booking anything for that week yet. I’m trying to stay positive about it as there’s nothing that can be done, so what’s the use in complaining?  It’s difficult though, when all you see is work stretching into the future with no break in sight to look forward to (again, I know we’ll have the summer holiday, but that’s loooong way off and at the moment feels like it’s almost unachievable).

Anyway, if anyone has any hints or tips on how to finish the blog entry I’m halfway through, or anything to do with dealing with depression, please let me know.  Or should I just publish what I’ve written so far and write the rest as a separate entry?