The final stretch – China Letter IX.

Written in early November 2007.

One fun thing about being a foreigner is when people try to guess where you are from.  For myself, I’ve heard England, Australia, Canada, France….  The presumption that I hear the most, however, is Russia.  Apparently, I look Russian.

Once I begin to speak, most people quickly deduce that I am an American.  Then they try to figure out what region of the US I’m from based on my accent.  The general consensus is that I sound East Coast, which is completely not accurate….

There are a great number of foreigners who stay on the executive club floor, which is where I am currently working.  Many are frequent guests and I’ve developed a friendly rapport with them.  It’s pretty easy to make friends when you remember that someone drinks cappuccinos and likes poached eggs with wheat toast, for instance.

After 10 months here, I have managed to integrate myself into the Shenzhen community a bit.  I am a member of a gym that is very near my apartment building.  The equipment is not state of the art and I have serious doubts that there is a functioning air conditioner, but it’s clean and certainly better than running outside, which is what I was doing.  I’ve even attended a few of the yoga classes that are offered.  Naturally, they are conducted solely in Chinese, so I’m a few beats behind everyone at all times.

Also, desperate for something to read, I obtained a “reader’s card” from the Shenzhen Public Library.  Their foreign book collection is a bit sparse, and you have to put down a 200 yuan (about 25 USD) deposit to check them out.  They have quite a few classics so I figured this is as good a time as any to get caught up on my Bronte, Hemingway, and Austin.

Many of you have asked when I’m coming home and what my plans are for post-China.  The answers are, respectively, I don’t know and I don’t know.  My contract ends in January and I plan to go home (fly out on January 3, local time—home for my birthday on the 4th!!) for a few weeks at that point.  I could possibly stay here in Shenzhen, based on a recent conversation that I had with the Quality and Training director regarding some of the opportunities that she can provide.  I may try to transfer to another IHG property (in the States or another country…who knows?).  I’ve also began pursuing a few career path leads outside of hotels.

I am beyond excited that Dale and Mom have consented to Lisa coming to visit me for about a week in December before I leave.  Someone to help me lug home all the stuff I’ve bought!  And I’m so excited to see her and show her around my Shenzhen life.

Thanksgiving in Shanghai

Shanghai view

Shanghai street food

I love street food. And I think I was much braver then about eating it than I would be today.

Shanghai night


Beach Trip with Friends

Beach boatMe: Do you think that boat is safe?
Anderson: (*long pause*nervous laugh*) Well, I think maybe…

Beach girls

Street Barbeque

Street BBQ

Street BBQ 2

Lisa’s Visit to Hong Kong

Erin's apartment Hong Kong

My friend Erin was nice enough to let us use her apartment in Hong Kong when Lisa came to town. Todd and I had to entertain ourselves with Starbucks and books while Lisa slept off her jet lag.

Lisa Todd Lamma

Trip to Lamma Island

Todd Amy Lisa Hong Kong

Last Week in Shenzhen

Amy Pepsi Lisa Pipette

Going Away Dinner

Lisa Mia

Going Away Party

Last China Picture

This was the last photo I have from my time in China. It was taken outside the hotel where I’d worked. Also pictured are two door girls whose names I can’t recall and two bellhops who had become good friends: Anderson and Steven. I remember feeling so sad to leave the country that had been my world – for better or worse – for twelve months.

I loved my time in China and the memories I have of that year are some of my favorite memories.  After my time in China, I began a temporary job at a company.  Temporary turned into permanent and I was there for six years.  When I left China, I’d had every intention of going back to Asia to live in another country – South Korea was on my mind at the time – but, as it so often does, life happened.  And I’m so glad it did because it got to me where I am today. 


The halfway point in China – China Letter VIII.

{This year I am sharing the letters that I sent to my family and friends when I lived in China back in 2007.  This is the eighth letter I sent home.}

Written (approximately) in early July 2007.

Well, the halfway point has arrived.  The first three months were the hardest.  Once the homesickness passed and I adjusted, I really started to enjoy my life here.  Half of the OSU representatives have left, as well as many of the management and non-management employees at the hotel.

China 3

One of the doctors in the clinic at the hotel has a 16-year-old son who will be going to study in England next year.  She wants him to practice his English with a native English speaker, so she asked me to spend some time with him to practice his conversation skills.  Well, technically, she had one of the trainers at the hotel (Linda) ask me because she (the doctor) can’t speak English.  You can’t really say no to a request like that so that’s how I wound up spending one Saturday afternoon with Michael (the kid), Linda, and Michael’s parents.  Michael seems very nice, and luckily he can already speak English quite well. Not that he spoke a great deal. Apparently I’m intimidating. Linda really is intimidating.  When she tells you to do something, you do it.  Whenever I would say something in English, she would make him explain what I had said to his parents in Chinese.  What they said in Chinese, he had to communicate to me in English. Poor kid.  We had an enjoyable afternoon though, watching table tennis on TV (ESPN baby) and walking around the neighborhood.

China 1

For dinner, his parents took Linda and me to a Chinese restaurant.  They were impressed with my ability to use chopsticks and my ability to handle really spicy food.  I explained that I picked up the chopsticks quickly when I decided I couldn’t go a year without eating and that I was raised on Mexican food.  Speaking of Mexican food, everyone eat some for me this week.  I’m craving it.  Anyway, about a quarter of the way through the meal, the electricity went out in the restaurant.  We ate by candlelight for the next 30 minutes or so.  That was probably how I managed to eat some of the fish head, which, by the way, was delicious.  FYI, at a restaurant it costs more to order the fish head than the entire fish.

China 4

Other weird food that I have tried recently includes cow stomach and pork intestines. Look at me…broadening my horizons.  I’ve learned to not stare at a dish too long trying to figure out what it is, because if you have to analyze it that hard, you probably just don’t want to know.

China 5

I have also taken to carrying an umbrella in my handbag at all times.  It rains more than I’ve ever seen in my entire life (I know–I’m from the desert so that’s not saying much).  A few times, I’ve been sure that we were about to have a typhoon.

Last weekend was the 10th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong from Great Britain to China.  Huge deal.  Hong Kong was packed.  We went to the island on Saturday and stayed the night in a hostel (more like a guesthouse) ran by some Scandinavians.  Sunday afternoon we participated in a pro-democracy march, which was much more peaceful than I had anticipated.  No fights or riots.  I was a little disappointed.  I did sign a petition to save RTHK (Radio Television Hong Kong), which seemed like a very important issue for me to take a stand on.

China 2

Hope everyone is well!  Let me know how you are and as always, you’re all in my thoughts and prayers.



Language barriers, a trip to the beach, and a bug zapper – China Letter VII.

This year, I am posting old letters that I sent to my family and friends when I was living in China.  As I don’t really have many photos to go with the discussion points in this short letter, there is a random assortment of pictures that were taken around the time that this letter was written. 

Written in mid-May 2007. 

I know it’s been awhile since I sent an update.  It has been really busy.  Also, I’ve pretty much adjusted to the culture so the novelty of things to share with you is wearing off.  Let’s see….

My Chinese is improving.  Everyone says that I have excellent pronunciation.  Unfortunately, I think my ability to speak proper English is suffering.  It’s very important to speak clear and slow English with my colleagues.  Sometimes I know that I am talking too fast or using words or expressions that they don’t understand, but I just keep jabbering on.  And bless their hearts, they nod and smile and pretend to understand exactly what I’m talking about.  Oh and they get so excited when I say anything in Chinese.

Doris and Amy

Doris became a good friend during my time in Shenzhen.

We took a trip to the beach a few weeks ago with other managers at the hotel.   It was nice to walk in the sand.  The beach was pretty.  And the food they fed us was delicious.

Sand and ocean

I hate mosquitoes because they love me. But I’ve discovered a way to get revenge.  I purchased an “electronic bug trap” at Wal-Mart.  It looks like a tennis racket, and with the aid of two double A batteries it produces an electronic current that zaps the little suckers.  You can see them frying on the wires and the big ones even pop.  Great fun.  Use with caution though…a friend of mine zapped himself pretty good!  He flinches anytime one of those things comes near him now.

That’s all for now!  Love ya all!

And as promised, random pictures from a trip to Hong Kong and a going away celebration….

Amy Todd Amy Hong Kong

Amy, Todd, and me – in Hong Kong – May 6, 2007

Hong Kong

The busy streets of Hong Kong – May 6, 2007

Amy Amy Hong Kong view from mountain

Amy squared – Hong Kong backdrop – May 6, 2007

Hong Kong night view from mountain

Hong Kong – May 6, 2007

Champagne - Amy's Goodbye Celebration

A champagne toast to the other Amy on night 2 of her going away festivities. (Mid-May 2007)

Trips and dinners – China Letter VI.

{This year, I have posted the letters that I wrote to my family and friends in 2007 when I lived in Shenzhen, China.  Here is the next installment in that series….}

Written in mid-April 2007.

Hong Kong is only a hop, a skip, and a jump away (aka:  2 hours, 2 trains, and 2 customs forms…), and I have now been three times.  The first Hong Kong trip included shopping—which the city is famous for, a trip on the ferry to the business side of the island, and a great deal of walking around awestruck.

HK 1

The second trip consisted of a few more trains and a bit more time to get to Hong Kong Disney.  Much smaller than the American Disney parks, HK Mickey Mouse-ville was still a good time.  Space Mountain  was the only “scary” ride, but there were some good shows and, most importantly, the tea cups.

HK Disney

4 Castle


The third and most recent trip to Hong Kong was this past Sunday to attend an Easter service at St. Andrew’s Anglican church.  The service was good; the preacher is from Australia and delivers a powerful message.  After the service, we walked around and I saw Jackie Chan.  Okay, not really, but I did see his hand prints in cement on the Walk of Stars.  Next we rode the ferry to the business side and took a tram up to the peak of the mountain.  Bubba Gump’s was the site for lunch (American food in China is my favorite) and there are no better views of Hong Kong than from the top of that mountain.  We walked down the mountain along a be-u-tiful trail.  It looked like a rain forest with waterfalls and streams. It was perfect.  Very steep though…I was sore the next day.

Bubba Gump

HK view

I have also been to Macau recently.  Macau is a small island that is about an hour and a half away from Shenzhen by ferry.  For 30 RMB you can make the trip on the deck.  We splurged and took advantage of that (it’s something like $4 USD).  You wind up with free coffee, great pictures, and a sunburn.  Totally worth it.


I’ve heard that Macau is the Vegas of China.  That may be true but it is compacted into a few square miles.  Portuguese and Mandarin are the two main languages and there is a distinctly European feel to the city.


We saw the remains of St. Paul’s, which is now a major tourist destination and arguably one of the best Christian monuments in Asia.  There were several casinos, including the Sands, which is the biggest casino in the WORLD.  One of its slot machines ate some of my money.  Perhaps the highlight of the trip was climbing down a mountain (I seem to be climbing down a lot of those in China) by way of the cement rainfall channel. We walked along the road for a long time, were getting no closer to our destination, and decided to take the mountain by way of water routes.  It worked quite well and (good news) none of the bushes we had to crawl under were poisonous.

Macau mountain

When I was working in reception, we went out to dinner at a hot pot place.  Hot pots are big cauldrons that sit in the middle of the table and contain simmering broth (generally there are two pots—one that has spicy broth and one that is not spicy).  You can then order any number of a variety items to put in the broth and boil right there in front of you.  Beef, lamb, vegetables, mushrooms, etc.  The most unusual item on our table (and one that I did not partake of) was the fish heads.   Yep, whole fish heads.  The little eyes are staring right at you when you drop them in the pot.  No thank you.

Hot pot

Then I switched to concierge and there was another outing.  This time it was to a restaurant called The Chieftain.  The waiters carve the meat right on to your plate at the table and there is an all you can eat buffet of a variety of other foods.  They (the waiters) also have their faces painted and perform a tribal type dance during dinner. The entire concierge team got their faces painted and you should have seen everyone staring at us as we made our way back on the metro.

Brazilian restaurant

One of the funniest things though, was watching my colleagues eat with knives and forks.  They are (understandably) much more comfortable with chopsticks.  My friend Nick was sitting right across from me and he kept saying that he was trying to “use the fork properly like a gentleman” because he didn’t want to disappoint me!

Beijing or bust.

Written in late March 2007.

So I knew that China was big, but I was still shocked by the size when I began to look into traveling around the country.  The first distant place that two of my American friends and I decided to go to was Beijing, which is a three hour flight from Shenzhen.

Beijing is the capital of China and home to many famous attractions.  While there, we saw Tien’anman’s Square, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, and the Great Wall, to name a few of the big ones.  The architecture is amazing and the city  is, overall, more “foreigner friendly” than Shenzhen.  There were many foreigners everywhere we went and, best of all, a lot of Western style restaurants and food.  We did not venture outside the box yet when it came to food, eating at TGIFridays two nights we were there and the Sizzler Steakhouse the other two nights.  It was magical.

When we arrived in Beijing late the night of the 4th, I called the friend of a friend who had made us reservations at a “budget” hotel.  Lesson number one:  budget is kind of scary when there are language barriers.  It seemed to be an iffy part of town, and we didn’t feel entirely safe.  Because it was so late, we decided to stick it out that night.  There were two twin beds in the room, so the guy claimed one and the other Amy and I got to spend the night closer to each other than either of us had ever planned or wanted to be.  The next morning, we moved to a Howard Johnson.

Hotel first night

Night one accommodations.

That was also the coldest day ever in China.  Okay, not really, but it was certainly the coldest day that Amy has experienced in China.  Our first touristy activity was to go shopping in Da Shi La, where we bought fun stuff like knock off North Face jackets, gloves, and hats.  The basic necessities.  Da Shi La was very similar to our own Lao Hu, where we bargain and negotiate prices down.

We spent the next day exploring around the inner city, beginning at the Forbidden City.  It is basically a 172 acre fortress that housed emperors back in the day.  Five hundred years ago, ordinary people were forbidden to go there, hence the name.  Many of the buildings are under construction, which is not scheduled to be finished until 2020.  Now that is some serious construction….

Amy Amy JT Forbidden City

From there we climbed to the top of Jingshan Park, where we were able to take some good view pictures of Beijing. Tian’anmen’s Square is famous for being the site of past demonstrations and violence but is now often used for city festivals.  It is 100 acres.

Tian'anmen's Square

Olympic countdown

The next day we went to the zoo and the SummerPalace.  Hands down the best part of the zoo was the bears.  There were pandas (which are my personal favorite), black bears, and brown bears.  We also saw zebras, giraffes, lions, tigers (and bears, oh my…), and a variety of monkeys and birds.

Black bear

The Summer Palace is set next to a manmade lake and is absolutely beautiful.  The grounds are about 700 acres and it was freezing cold so we just snapped some pics and left pretty quickly.

Summer Palace

The Ba Da Ling section of the Great Wall is about 50 miles north of Beijing.  It is the most visited part of the wall and the first section that was restored for tourists.  We had planned to take a bus to the Wall, but that proved hard to do since we couldn’t FIND the bus.  So we took a taxi, which was a terrifying and expensive decision. After arguing with the driver, who had to call the hotel so that the Concierge could mediate the conversation, we ventured to the cable car ticket office.  In the mountains, there was a lot of snow on the ground and it was even colder than it was in Beijing.  The view when we got off the cable car was amazing, but we soon realized that climbing the Great Wall is no easy feat.  It is hard to climb even when it is not icy and snow packed.  The steps vary in height and are really steep. The Wall winds and twists over the mountains.  It is absolutely amazing to me that people built that all those years ago.  I could not even climb very much of it!  Amy and I climbed to the first landing from where we started and then decided that we were done.

Great Wall

Luckily we had brought a guy along to keep climbing and take pictures from the watch towers above.  So while our personal photographer braved the icy conditions, we appreciated the view from that first landing and talked to other tourists as they made the treacherous climb.

At Great Wall

I came to the conclusion that I am definitely a weakling because there were people who were much older than me climbing much further then I did. There were even people with canes! We took the bus back to Beijing and that was delightfully less expensive.

We flew back to Shenzhen the next day and it was back to the same old routine.  Beijing was a lot of fun and I am really glad that I went.  It was great spending time with the other two kids.  But I think we were all happy to have our own individual rooms and personal space back!

Settling into the foreign life – China Letter V.

Written in early March 2007.

The Chinese New Year just ended.  I love the Chinese New Year.  My favorite part was the red envelopes.  They’re pretty.  Oh, and they have money in them.  Most of the managers at the hotel give red envelopes to all the employees.  Generally there is 10 Yuan in each envelope.  Monday I received one with 100 Yuan from a guest.  Very fun….

Most of the people I work with speak at least a bit of English.  Their “Chenglish” is pretty funny sometimes.  The other day one of my colleagues at the reception desk said, “I saw your old country boss, Bill Clinton, at the Crowne Plaza one day.”  I love it…I’m calling the President our country boss from now on.

Another colleague, Lillian, told me that before her English name was Lillian she had chosen No-No to be her name because it’s short, easy to remember, and she thinks “that No-No is a very lovely name.”

Amy & Nono

No-No and I still keep in touch.

I spend a great deal of time proofreading things that my co-workers write in English:  incident reports, emails, résumés, resignation letters, love letters….  I should have minored in English.

Wednesday night I went to Shekou with some friends. They wanted to stay out later than I did so I decided to catch a cab back to the apartment by myself.  It was then that I realized I did not know how to say “Happy Valley” (the amusement park near the apartments) or “Crowne Plaza” (the hotel right next door) in Chinese. And wouldn’t you know it, I had forgot my mobile in my room so I couldn’t call one of my Chinese friends and ask them to translate to the driver.  Finally, I said “Shennan Road, Shenzhen” and the driver (his name was Qu Hai Qian and he was the nicest little man) knew that one.  So he got me to Shennan Blvd and I just kept motioning for him to go straight until I saw the CrownePlaza.

At one point Qu Hai Qian yawned and I asked him, “Nee lai la ma?”  He responded with “Mayo lai,” and I’m sure was very impressed with the fact that I could carry on a conversation about being sleepy.  Why in the world would I need to know my actual address when I can ask someone if they are tired?  That’s practical.

I just got back from a trip to Beijing and I’m going to keep you in suspense on the details of that adventure.  You can look forward to hearing all about the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, Tian’anmen Square, and Beijing in general.  It was wild, I can assure you.

Camel at the Great Wall

Write me and let me know how all of you are doing!  I love hearing about what’s going on in all of your lives.  It’s like I’m completely cut off from pop culture (I didn’t even know that Britney Spears shaved her head for the longest time), which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Also, if these letters or the links to the pictures aren’t opening for you, let me know and I’ll try to get them to you some other way. Like by one of those carrier pigeons or something.

The Year of the Pig – China Letter IV.

China letter 4 – Written in late February 2007.

I have decided that you are not truly living the Chinese culture until you hang your clothes out on your balcony to dry.  So alas, I had to give in and hang my jeans and shirts outside to dry. However, I refuse to hang my underwear in public for everyone walking down the Chinese street to see.  That’s where I draw the line.

The cost to build the InterContinental Shenzhen was $800 million USD.  There is a piano in the lobby lounge that cost $230,000.  It was designed by the guy who designs Ferrari’s.  There are only 10 of them made each year.  It looks liked the hood of a car and is seriously one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.

Lobby Christmas

I can’t find the picture that I’m certain I had of the piano…so here’s a picture of the lobby – decorated for Christmas – instead.  The piano is just to the left of the tree in this picture. 

I walk across a bridge on my way to work every day, and there is always something interesting there.  Singers, beggars, guys selling fake designer watches and jewelry….  One singer is actually pretty good and sings American songs.  The other day he was crooning “Desperado.”  He’s my favorite of the bridge people.

Thursday night, we went to the Shangri-la Hotel for an ex-pat dinner to celebrate the New Year.  The menu was interesting.  It was 12 courses and to give you an idea of what kind of food they have in China, here are a few of the menu items:  double boiled shark fin soup, steamed mandarin fish with ham and mushrooms, steamed shrimp (the whole shrimp—heads, eyes, and everything) with lotus leaf, mussels and snap peas, and crispy chicken with taro curd sauce.  Creative…but I was glad when we stopped at McDonald’s on the way home.

Lou Ho is a district of Shenzhen that is famous world wide for its shopping.  I’ve gone there three or four times in the past two weeks.  The most fun aspect of shopping in Lou Ho is that you get to bargain for what you’re buying.  Example:  I want to buy a watch and ask how much it is.  The merchant types 250 into a calculator.  I make a face, grab the calculator, and type in 50.  He shakes his head and says, “No, no! Top quality watch.” (FYI:  Nothing in Lou Ho is top quality.  It’s all fake.)  He types 150 into the calculator and says, “Bottom price.” I say, “Too high.  No way,” and turn to walk away.  He literally  chases me down the hallway, “Lady, lady…100.”  I say, “65.”  Him: “I make no profit, but for you, 65.”  It’s a buyers market.

Amy & Amy sunglasses

Sunglasses in Lou Ho.

After an exhausting day of haggling and buying fake Coach purses, Frank Mueller watches, and Ping golf clubs (I didn’t buy golf clubs—the other Amy did), we decided to eat at Henry J. Beans Bar & Grill, a restaurant in the Shangri-la.  The atmosphere was like Chili’s or Applebees.  The food was good old fashioned American burgers, quesadillas, and chicken sandwiches.  It was fabulous.

Amy & Saada HJB's

Amy and Saada – living the good life at HJB’s.

Portifino is a neighborhood near my apartment that is like a different world.  It is set up like a little Swiss village.  There is an array of café’s and shops set up around a pond.  The residential buildings are condos that look nothing like the high rise apartments that are everywhere else in this city.  Even the balconies where people hang their clothes out to dry look classier.

Todd Amy Erin Paul

Sadly, I can’t find pictures of Portofino during the day.  Here’s a night-dinner-table shot. 

Ai (that’s Mandarin for love),