Restful Holiday

Daliang Big Gate New Year Nama Mama
I didn’t want to believe B when she said it can get cold here. In fact in summer I couldn’t comprehend it. But sure enough, this winter there have been cold snaps that made me have flashbacks to my time in Jiangsu. Sometimes the temperature was down to 5 degrees Celsius. With no indoor heating and homes that are designed to keep in the cold, that was quite uncomfortable. Thankfully these periods were relatively short, and now the weather is much more comfortable.

We’ve been here as a family now for a couple of months. We were mostly spectators to Chinese New Year, choosing not to go out and do anything to celebrate it except visit a local flower market. K discovered how to take the bus to the nearest Vanguard Supermarket, and just as in Jiangsu, that has been our most adventurous weekly travel destination. Ah the joys of frugal living.

New Year Display in San Hong Qi Nama Mama

Now that holiday is over, we’ve settled back into a nice routine. We found a good kindergarten for A. It’s a bit of a trek but its good exercise. We’re trying not to think about how it’s going to be once the weather gets really hot. She is happy there and doesn’t give us any trouble in the morning to get her ready. She really likes the sweat towels that the kids here wear (to make sure their backs don’t get cold, er summin), and wants to wear one all the time.

Hundreds of Goldfish in Daliang Nama Mama

Last Saturday I took them to a big Buddhist temple. The weather was amazing! We had a really nice time there. I tell K that this is the time to get out and see things. Once it gets hot, the only place we will want to be is under the air conditioner.

K has been busy experimenting with his skills here. He’s taught himself to make some handicrafts with our new sewing machine. I’ve been so proud of him, not only has he mastered table runners, but he’s figured out how to make clothes. We all have some additions to our wardrobes! For a person who has a lot of trouble buying clothes in China, this is especially exciting!

Eventually we will expand our blanket business to include other Tibetan style crafts, so we are researching and developing that now. He’s also mastering the art of yogurt making. Hopefully soon he will be able to start regularly selling yogurt in our community. He is a jack of all trades.

That’s all for now, take care everybody!

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Year in Review 2017

It’s that time of year again. Time to reflect on the past 12 months, think about life in general, and make some promises about the next 12. It’s time for the end of the year recap, and this year, just like the past few years, has been quite an adventure.

Losar 2017 Nama Mama

This year didn’t have a good start. I was just preparing to leave a miserable job and situation in rural Qinghai. It was a relief to leave that school, but instead of renting our own place for a while (like I expected) we instead went to stay with K’s relatives for a couple of months.

Those were some of the hardest months of my life. The stress of everything eventually led to me having an anxiety attack. Finally after two long months, our little family moved to our own place in Xining, where KL would resume kindergarten and K would continue his work with the milk factory, occasionally staying in the grasslands sometimes for a week at a time.

Xining Handicraft Seller Nama Mama

I needed time to heal. During our half-year stay in Xining I did not get a job outside the home. I couldn’t get a work visa anyway, and a similar soul-destroying job like I’d had for so many years before would have finished me. So I “rested” (though taking care of a three year old can hardly be considered a holiday) and tried to find ways to earn a living that didn’t require me to teach.

One thing that I started was submitting my photos to stock photography websites. I spent many hours in front of my computer typing keywords and titles. Some were accepted. Many more were rejected. I went out with the purpose of capturing desirable stock photos. I learned a lot and it changed the way I took photos.

All that hard work was not wasted. Soon I started getting the odd commission here and there. Then the amount per commission started to increase. Now I have a way to earn some passive income. It is really exciting!

Blankets Nama Mama

The other wonderful thing we started was our Shema-lep Tibetan Style Blanket business. It was something that we had been toying around with since Jiangsu (Where K made our first blanket) and finally I couldn’t bear to put it off anymore. I started a WeChat group of potentially interested people, showed K (who had a very difficult time believing something as “ordinary” as a Tibetan style blanket could be a desirable product (can you believe it?)), and finally he agreed to seriously start the process.

We’ve hired and trained tailors, and sold more than 50 custom ordered blankets, all with very happy recipients. Now K is really eager to keep it going, and we are going to try despite the fact that he will be moving to Guangdong next month.

Guangdong Orange Flower Nama Mama

Despite having a growing business, we knew that our current situation wasn’t stable. It was a “waste” of my earning potential to not work, and K could no longer stomach our nomadic and rent-paying lifestyle. He encouraged me to move to another place where I could earn money faster. Somewhere away from Qinghai, where it was easier to get a better visa type or at least be closer to Hong Kong for visa runs.

If the idea was for us to move together, I would have been more ok with everything, but since the milk factory had potential to be a stable and enjoyable job, K was reluctant to leave it. I was encouraged to do things the Tibetan way: leave your family and go to where you can earn more money. I hated it and fought against the thought, but in the end I agreed to do it. I couldn’t see any better solution to our pressing financial problems.

Locks in the Buddhist Temple Guangdong Nama Mama

Fortunately, because of my network of WWAM friends, I had the opportunity to go to Guangdong and work with B. It was difficult to leave my life in Qinghai to start over yet again in a different place in China. Bitterness and resentment about my decision combined with stifling summer heat made me a fairly useless new recruit. But B and her team were welcoming, helpful and patient. Most of all, it was such a relief to finally be around someone who could really understand my situation.

Slowly I started to realize that it has been in Guangdong that true healing has taken place. Being removed from the intense sources of pressure in my life (my Tibetan family and their expectations, my husband, motherhood stress) was exactly what I had been needing. I came back to my old self, a self that I had not seen for the last few years. With support, understanding, and encouragement from B and our team, I’ve started eating much healthier for me (no wheat!) and I’m very satisfied with the results. I’m losing weight and feeling good.

Another wonderful thing that’s happened here is that I’ve changed how I think and feel about teaching. B said that in time I may remember why I originally liked teaching, and she was absolutely right. Working at her school has been such a life altering experience and I will be forever grateful to her for allowing me to do so.

Yellow Wall Blue Window Daliang Guangdong Nama Mama

I’m also really happy that I gave Guangdong a chance. There are so many beautiful things here, and such a rich culture. I feel like it will be a long time before I’m finished with China’s sweaty south. I’m excited that K and KL will be joining me here next month. They too can be charmed by Canton. It is very important for me to have my family reunited as soon as possible. I’m sure that the start of 2018 will actually be a positive one.

And how about New Year’s Resolutions? Hmm, This year I have only one. I want to start Bullet Journaling. (Yes, you can blame my recent obsession with Instagram for that.) I’ve purchased some really exciting and beautiful products, and once the New Year rolls in, I hope to be journaling away to my heart’s content (and sharing my creations with my IG followers!) You can follow me here.

So this year, 2017 probably won’t go down in history as one of my favorites, but it will be remembered as a time where I was asked to do really difficult things and came out of it better than when I went in. I think that’s all we can really aim for.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Exploring on Foot

Cone Incense in Guangdong Shunde Nama Mama
Hello everyone! I’m happy to report that temperatures have come down! It now feels like Qinghai at the hight of summer! Do you know what that means? It’s November and I still haven’t gotten out any of my warmer clothes. While the locals shiver in their jackets, I frolic down the streets of the nearby city wearing short-pants and t-shirts, taking photos.

This past month I have been really happy. Mostly because the weather is good enough that I can get outside and start exploring the world around me. And explore I have!  It’s been wonderful to get up early, go out with my camera and discover Guangdong. So far I’ve made friends with a family, watched a dragon boat race, and taken gazillions of photos of old houses and well kept ancestral temples. I’ve also joined a photography club that travels around this city’s villages and takes photos. They’re curious and happy to have a foreign member of their club.

Dragon Boat Races Beijiao Shunde Guangdong Nama Mama

So as luck would have it, I was able to go to a dragon boat race this year. Usually they are held in June during Duanwu Holiday. This town has theirs in October though, which is probably smarter, as the weather is much nicer.

I went there with my new friends who live in the town, a family with three daughters. I’ve been meeting with them to play badminton and to enjoy their delicious cooking. We all speak standard Mandarin together (poorly), which none of us is a native speaker. At least mine is good enough to go out into the world and make friends who don’t also speak English.

Window Guangdong Shunde Beijiao Nama Mama
Now that the weather is comfortable, I’ve been trying to get out of the house as much as possible. Not only to see the world but to make a separate life for myself unrelated to my work. Being at work, or nearby during off hours is a good way to get roped into working, if you’re not careful. I’ve discovered. That’s one of the dangers of working and living with your friends.

Things will be changing again in the next couple of months. K and KL will be joining me down here, probably in January, so I am preparing for that. I want to help him find a good job, find us a nice place to live, and secure a kindergarten spot for Autumn. Our family will be together again! And in another very far away and different place. Hopefully this will be the last leg of our nomadic journey, and we can work hard and save up quickly so that we can really settle down.

I’m optimistic about Guangdong. I wonder why I never gave it a chance before. It’s full of hidden treasures. It’s just the heat that has to be dealt with. Well, so far winter is fantastic!

Chinese Blue Journal Nama Mama
Another very positive thing is my job. I’m really starting to enjoy it. I even look forward to teaching certain classes! I think this is a major breakthrough when it comes to happiness and job satisfaction. I may come to enjoy teaching after all!

Unrelated, I’ve joined Instagram (properly). I’m having such an amazing time browsing through inspirational photos and following skilled and creative photographers. If you’d like to follow me my handle is shema_lep_tibetan_blankets . I post photos from all over China and Tibet. I also post photos related to our blanket business (which is chugging along!) and you can visit our website at shema-lep.com !

One concern we have when K moves here is who is going to do the legwork for the blanket business. We are still trying to figure that out. In any case, I don’t want to take a break from it. We’re going to try to keep it going. Our customers are all pleased with their blankets, and are happy that we are able to keep some plateau handicrafts alive.

So I was right, 2017, albeit toward the end, has been a time for improvements.

Cooling Off

The Ocean in Guangdong China Asia Nama Mama

I’m more than a month into my new teaching job, and more than three months into my Guangdong adventure. Time continues to fly by unconcerned if it is being spent doing and seeing interesting things.

For a while, it was hard for me to find energy. Endless stifling heat weighed down on my body like giant sandbags and I wondered if it would ever end. Luckily I was usually able to spend much of my time indoors with decent air conditioning, so that I could actually get some work done.

Only recently have I been able to comfortably venture outside and explore my surroundings. Yet another typhoon has arrived, and so has fall, I’m told. This past week I have spent my mornings on foot, finally exploring what this area has to offer.

Temple Gate under the Full Moon Nama MamaThe first week of October is one of China’s golden travel weeks. This year it was two holidays in one: National day and the Mid Autumn Festival. Like the students, we had the full week off, and I was fortunate enough to still get some wonderful traveling in, as well as spend time with some of my favorite people. I went to my WWAM friend C’s husband’s home town with her family. It was a very interesting and mostly delightful experience. I was able to give her some advice and tell her about some of the things she should expect. It was her first time to visit the village, so everybody was a bit nervous.  For me it was nice to be able to get to know another multicultural family without the pressure that goes along with actually being a member of it.

They rented a car and we drove there. I was able to appreciate the beauty of the province. Guangdong, a place I was never interested in visiting. I can say now that I was wrong to write it off.

Shanjiao Village Door in Guangdong ChinaI continue to mostly enjoy my teaching job here. The students are getting to know me, and are starting to address me by name. They’re all little balls of energy, but most of the time they are actually delightful. I teach with a local guy who goes by the name Billy, and the two of us take turns leading the classes.

I really enjoy the amount of creative freedom I have by teaching at this school. Some of the challenges include having an unpredictable boss, not being able to make plans for more than one day in advance, and having a clear work-life separation. Still and all, I can honestly say that most of the time I am happy, and that is something I haven’t been able to say for a really long time.

It is possible that K and A will join me here in a few months. Now I am focused on finding him a good job here, and looking for a good, affordable kindergarten for A. Hopefully we will be reunited as a family in a few months. Keep your fingers crossed!

Back to School

Lantern Flower Qinghui Yuan

It has arrived, that dreaded, celebrated time of year for parents, teachers, and students: Back to school. It’s also a very different experience this time, mostly for one particular reason: I don’t mind teaching here.

You heard it right, I feel like I made the right decision to come here and work with B. Her education philosophy is so much better than anything else I have experienced in China, and by implementing it in all of the classes, after one full week of teaching well behaved kids who know useful English phrases, who enjoy the classes and learn in a natural way….it’s been wonderful.

Window and Roof Tiles Nama Mama

Aside from teaching, life here is quite relaxing. It’s finally starting to get a tiny bit cooler, which gives me more motivation to get out and see more of what Guangdong has to offer. On my Saturday off a few weeks ago I went to an amazing Chinese garden. One of my very favorite things to do is visit ancient places in Asia and appreciate traditional architecture and landscape design. That was one of the happiest Saturdays in recent years and I’m looking forward to going back soon.

Stained Glass Window Nama Mama
I live in a beautiful wealthy compound, in a house with several housemates. The whole compound is like a modern tropical garden. When I look out the window at the other fake-stucco houses, I could be in Florida. It’s the most beautiful and comfortable place I’ve ever lived in China. It’s a China that I didn’t know existed.

Qing Hui Yuan Building Nama Mama

My day is also backwards, we start work 2:30 every day, and there are three classes in the evenings starting at 6:00. When I’m not teaching, I’m writing lesson plans, preparing materials or making craft projects. If I have to stay in the English teaching profession, this may be as good as it gets. I may stay here for longer than anticipated.

Traditional Building in Guangdong Nama Mama

As for my family life, it is in some ways hard to be apart from KL, but we are able to have almost nightly video chats, where I read books to her and get to enjoy her mischievous or genuinely happy smiles.

Still no news about when we will be together as a family again. As much as I was disappointed and sad to leave, I now see that it has been good for me. I’m losing weight, I have time to work on a number of projects that I have been putting off, and I have time to examine what I actually really want in life, and how to go and get it, instead of just trying everything in my power to be able to very basic things.

It’s a little scary but also very empowering. Sometimes we get get stuck in a situation or place, and we forget that the world is big and there are other options and places and people. My relocation was forced, but now I see it could be one of the best things for me. Let’s see what the future brings.

Satan’s Armpit

Plumeria Guangdong Nama Mama

I’ve been putting off an update. As you know, recent weeks have been a period of major adjustment. Leaving my husband and daughter, flying down to the second-hottest possible area of China to live (there is still Hainan Island…), and starting a new life, that’s what I’ve been up to for the last three weeks.

I bet you’re all wondering how that’s going.

Well, I have to say that my overall first impressions of nearly every aspect of my new life are overwhelmingly positive.

Lazer Tag Nama Mama

I had a couple of days to truly appreciate the intense heat and humidity, as well as get to know B and her crew before the summer camp started. I walked around exhausted, feeling like I weighed three hundred pounds (have you ever been to the tropics?). Summer camp was truly exhausting. Every night I just fell in to bed after the ritual evening shower and lowering of the mosquito net.

But camp was also amazing. I’ve never seen anything like it in China.  The children were well behaved, and all of them know what they were supposed to say and when they should say it. All day I was surrounded by “May I please go to the bathroom?” and “May I have some more broccoli please?” It was surreal.

Because they were so well behaved, the staff was able to do all sorts of fun games and activities with them, without worrying about fights, safety, or them running off. I expected to have to deal with a lot of discipline problems, and when there were almost none, I was left to teach them crafts and serve them more vegetables.

Red Lantern in the Garden Nama Mama

After camp, B and myself, who hit it off very well, did a lot of office work and resting. We also started the Keto diet together, or at least a slightly more relaxed version of it. Basically we try to avoid all carbs and sugars, and limit our food to meats, dairy, and non-starchy vegetables. I thought it would be difficult, but so far I don’t have any cravings. As long as I can feel full, I don’t even feel the need to snack! I think I am just very very lucky.

I’m also already losing inches, and I’ve had some other nice health benefits such as better digestion, and a bit more energy (or perhaps I’m feeling weighed down somewhat less)

This kind of diet would almost be impossible in Qinghai, so I’m taking advantage of having a keto buddy and having more foods around me than bread and noodles.

Stinky Fruit Guangdong Nama Mama

I’m also really enjoying the people here where I live. Of course it is only one small area of an enormous province, but there are so many stark contrasts to my experience in Northern China. In general, people are friendly. Even the grandmas! People often say hello to me before I say “ni hao” to them. It is quite a nice change from the stern judgemental nai nais in the north.

And people genuinely seem happy here. In general. That’s a really nice change. And you know what. I find that I am happy too. Now I am feeling cautiously optimistic that the good parts of 2017 can finally begin. Once I get my daughter here, I think things will be as happy as there is potential for in our current situation. So that is the next step. Arranging for her kindergarten.

I’m looking forward to starting classes at my new school this fall. If the summer camp is any indication of what the regular school year will be like, I may regret not moving here years ago. And let’s see when/if I ever do leave.

Decisions Made