Freeby on Licorice

Those of you who really know me know that my favorite candy is licorice.  My favorite is  Twizzlers chocolate flavored but I’ll take any flavor really except for black licorice.  Black licorice is my mom’s favorite so I’ll usually pass that flavor on to her.

Licorice is hard to come by in China but you can usually find a small bag in the imported section for about $3.50 (not chocolate flavored though). Not to worry though we stocked up on this in the States this Christmas so if it’s a very special occasion we will raid the licorice stash.

You can imagine my surprise when I spotted this package of licorice in the imported section of Carrefore that read “buy 1 get 1 free” but what was even more surprising is the package right next to it that read “buy 1 get 2 free”.

Now here I am holding the package so my friend can take a picture for me when this employee says in perfect English “I’m sorry but taking pictures is forbidden in the store” and we told him we just thought the freebie on the licorice was funny and he responds “well I had only 5 bags left to shelf.  What was I to do?”

Now we are left to fight over who gets the extra free bag and I don’t even like black licorice.  I’ll tell you one thing I’ve learned living in China though….black licorice actually does taste good when it’s that or what I know Greg’s options are at work today…


A great performance and the chickens who got in the way

The best part about the kids going to school in China is that our teenager down to our preschooler all attend the same school which means we get to watch their end of the year programs all on the same night.  The worst part of the evening is commuting to the school in traffic.  This night is no exception with it being a Friday night everyone is trying to use the same road into town.  Here we are stuck in traffic and the motorcycles are inching in until all you can see are motorcycles all around you….


Now a motorcycle might look like a good way to travel here until you see what’s left of one in an accident and believe me I’ve seen plenty.  I’m now thinking there is an accident up ahead because we haven’t moved for awhile but as we get closer to the scene could it really be…

The chicken transporter ran out of gas on the on-ramp to the freeway?

Do you think it’s possible to fit just one more chicken on this motorcycle?  Yep, they already did and he’s probably running down the road for help.

Well it was all worth the wait because I haven’t laughed that much in a long time and we still made the show and my favorite performances for the night were…

 Ethan’s class of 9 students (only two are American)

Olivia’s Level 9 class performs “Accidentally in Love”

and McKaela surprised us by playing the guitar and singing in the program.

Watch out Osmonds the Christensen’s are in the house!

Date Night Adventures

We used to go out to dinner and a movie on our date nights but watching a movie in chinese isn’t that fun it turns out so we still go out to dinner only now we come up with other activites to do and what better way is there to do a little exploring than when you don’t have the kids with you?  Here are a couple experiences worth remembering…

Anyone who knows me knows I love Costco.  Costco and Target are my bread and butter back in the states.  I don’t have either store here and the closest thing I’ve heard to a Costco Store is Metro.  Metro is an International Wholesale Cash & Carry store and I mean that literally.  You can only use cash (unless you have a chinese bank card) and you carry the items out in the shopping cart without bags.  I guess Costco does the same thing but at least they offer a box for your stuff.

If you have ever gone on a date to Costco you know the man isn’t there for groceries.  He’s only there to check out the electronics so by the time we are done with the electronics area my cart is full with items like a new fan for the house, a new iron (it doesn’t work so I get a whole different experience taking that back to the store), a backpack, and some clothes and shoes.  Greg tells me now he will just stand at the end of the isles while I grab any groceries I need.  Here I am juggling boxes of food weaving in and out of shoppers to find Greg.  Now it’s either walk through what looks like a meat packing plant or just head to the freezer section and find something already packaged.  This is where you decide if you want the chicken with the head on or off…

Luckily I found a package of just chicken breasts.  Our family just doesn’t eat spare parts.

Shopping at Metro only gets more interesting when we have a full shopping cart and we are waiting for about 20 minutes in line to purchase our items and I notice we are the only foreigners in sight so all eyes are on us and our giant load of groceries.  Most carts I notice only have 4 or 5 items in them. Some people stop and look through our cart.  Others just stare at you and a few people gather around the cashier to take bets on how much our stuff is going to cost.  This is where I wish I had a camera with me so I can take a picture of Greg’s face and the thousand people behind him staring in our direction.  We did come prepared this time with enough cash but my first trip here I didn’t know about the cash rule and when the cashier told me in Chinese that my credit card doesn’t work here I resort to asking my driver to come in and help me with the translation which ends with him paying for my groceries and me stopping at the ATM to get him enough cash to cover my expenses.  Sad thing is this trip is a twice a month experience.

Lotus Market

Another date we have done without the kids is checking out this famous place called the Lotus Wholesale Market.  The Lotus Market is the largest market in south-west China.  You’ll mostly find clothing, textiles, shoes, accessories, sporting goods, arts & crafts, and toys.  The quality and selection isn’t as good as what you would find in the U.S. but there is a lot of the same stuff everywhere so it’s easy to get lost because the shops all look the same to me.

This place is so big it takes at least one hour to walk around the perimeter and we didn’t even see all the different markets.  Don’t worry if you get tired walking around because there are motorcycle taxi drivers literally sitting around picking their noses waiting to give you a ride….

The shoe market was pretty amazing with guys carrying shoes from store to store but the sizes are too small for most of my family.


Pirated DVD’s

We like to watch movies and our Friday Pizza Movie night ritual has been hard to create in China because pizza is hard to find and it costs more and tastes different.  We do still watch movies every Friday night and since our entire collection of DVD’s was lost in the shipment we have resorted to buying DVD’s on the street.  China has the largest black market for DVD’s in the world and 9 out of 10 DVD’s sold here are pirated.  Cheap pirated movies can be found on the street just days after the movie is released in theatres.

From what I’ve learned China has a strict censorship policy making it nearly impossible for consumers in China to buy legal copies of American films because so few are approved for marketing.  There are so many bootleg DVD factories and so little enforcement of the law that it’s hard to make a case for legitimate DVD sales.  Last year box office receipts totaled a mere $1.5 billion in China whereas the bootleg copies totaled $6 billion.

To purchase illegal movies you need to find a dealer.  First you have someone who speaks Chinese take you to a dealer they trust, bargain for a good price and then next time you go they will always honor the price you agreed on so we pay about $1 per movie.

This is what I find funny…

We had our driver show us where to buy these DVD’s and he takes us to this computer store where they sell laptops only he nods to someone in the back and then we head to the dark corridor where there are steps that take us to another level and one of the doors is apparently the DVD shop.  After knocking on the door the locks are all open and we are admitted into the room.  The room is no bigger than a walk-in closet with floor to ceiling DVD’s and Music CD’s.  After you have paid for your DVD’s the dealer will check through the peep hole to make sure the coast is clear before exiting the building.

First time I went I felt like I was in some movie and no, Mom I’m not buying weed just DVD’s.  I’ll repent later I promise.

Yin Yang of China

There is always a good and bad side of living in China.  I call it the Yin Yang factor.  Some days are good and some days are bad but some days can be both good and bad.  I’m talking the extreme good to the extreme bad all in just one day.  My day started great…rode the bus with the kids to their school to sign some forms in the office, pay for more lunch tickets ($3 ea.), and I even volunteered some time in their classroom before my ride came to pick me up for the traditional Friday foot massage.

A chinese foot massage is more than just a foot rub.  The places are open 24/7 and the place I went was more like a hotel.  We were shown to our room where there were 5 beds set up for us (there were 5 of us today) and a lady there to take your tea order.  I had lemon water with a sugar cube and then a team of masseurs complete with uniforms came in with tubs of hot gel water to soak our feet.  While our feet were soaking they rubbed our necks and shoulders.  I swear they worked on each foot for 20 minutes each and then the lady came back in with some fresh fruit.  I thought the whole thing was over then but they came back in and worked on our backs and did some stretches with our legs and arms.  I might have died and gone to heaven then but it still wasn’t over.  Someone brought us in some noodles and wantons for lunch and then the massage continued with some hot coals in a pillow rubbed on our backs.  Guess you can stay and sit in a sauna and some people stay overnight after their massages but after 2 hours of pampering including drinks and lunch it was 106 rmb.  That’s a whole $16

Now remember I warned you about the good and the bad…

well I had to rush home because the kids were getting home from school and someone was coming to fix the water fountain that seriously blew up when we turned it on the other day and my gardener was coming over and I was told I just needed to tell her what to do.  Easy if you speak chinese but I don’t yet so it’s more of a pantomime game for me.  I really just wanted the tree branches that rub against the house trimmed and the dead grapevine growing over the windows removed but what I got was a team of gardeners not more than 4 feet tall using these really large trimmers that wacked every branch on the tree off.  Now there is just a tree trunk where there was a beautiful tree before.  I’m not sure where I went wrong there…

It only gets worse when the repair man for the fountain in the pond decides it’s just too much work to fix the water fountain so he replaces the electrical outlet with a light switch that doesn’t include a switch for the fountain.  Ugghh!

My day got better though when I realized it was Friday night date night and I have a built-in babysitter (nice) so our driver took us exploring for a restaurant near our home.  We found a fun place to look around and even a nice valet style parking restaurant to eat at.  Our driver came in to order for us and told the waiter we didn’t like our meat with bones and skin and ordered 4 dishes for us to try and told us to enjoy our time and left.  Our meal was delicious and we had servers at our feet filling our wine glasses with Pepsi (of all things) every few minutes and they even brought us some fancy silverware on a silver platter.  (guess they were laughing at our chopstick skills)  The whole meal came to less than $20 and you don’t leave a tip in China.

I think that meal would have made up for the gardener/repair guy mishap if I didn’t come home from our date to a fridge that doesn’t work and all my meat is thawing out, a dishwasher leaking all over the floor, and a water pipe that burst somewhere in the neighborhood so we now don’t have water either.  No need to panic because I have a small fridge upstairs I can move the food to until we can get the fridge fixed and it’s Friday night movie night so let us just relax a little only now the TV is out too because the chinese government pulled the plug on the television programs due to a controversial political campaign here.  Gotta love China!

I can always look forward to Tuesday because it’s pilates day with a foot rub and lunch.  I can wait that long, right?

Here is some Chinese Humor for you….

My guess is the word “Hell” is suppose to read “Heaven?” and that’s Noe’s Ark instead of Noah’s Ark and yes that is a free battery with my snickers bar.  Yum!


Grocery Shopping in China

One thing you can’t bring with you from the United States to China is food.  Unless you have extra space in your luggage you plan on checking in you won’t be able to bring anything over.  When we first arrived we knew we would need to get some food so we had our driver take us to the supermarket which happens to be the largest supermarket I have ever seen.  It’s more like a mall with a grocery store in the center.

 ChineSUZHOU Kun shan Zhong yin shi mao Store

Most of the food looks foreign.  Oh wait, it is foreign to me… I’m in China!  I realize quickly that I won’t be able to communicate with an employee and I can’t read the labels so this might be difficult.

I can make out the produce only it’s different from what we find in the states.

 and you have to stand in line to have a barcode put on the produce before you go to the checkout stand.  This is something I didn’t know and it was quite an ordeal when I got to the checkout so lesson learned!

The meat department looks like this  I think that is chicken in the upper left corner of the photo.  If it’s not then my family will eat something new I guess.

 This could be hamburger I’m just not sure.

I don’t even WANT to know what this is…

There are isles and isles of noodle and rice options and the oil comes in gallon sizes.   I never found dairy other than some boxed milk, powdered milk, and peanut milk.   Really, I was just exhausted by the time I walked through the place so in the end this is what I got…

Next trip to the market I thought it would be nice to make some cookies for my kids when they get home from school but I wasn’t sure I would be able to find all the ingredients.  I did find the baking isle and everything is packaged in bags with chinese writing so I wasn’t sure what I was getting and the sizes are small so it might only make a small batch but it’s worth trying.

Somehow without butter, a mixer, a cookie sheet, or even oven mitts I made my family some cookies…YEAH!!

It’s a little like camping out still but I’ll learn where to shop for what my family calls “normal” food and I’ve already met some other expat wives in the neighborhood who have brought my family food and given me the 411 on where to buy imported food and the International Womens Group has even put together a cookbook with local ingredients together so I just need to get my hands on that and I’ll be good to go….I think.