Monday, August 22, 2016

Fortune Cookie #11 - Chinese Beauracracy

Sometimes it feels like our move to China is never going to happen. I know we will get there, but the process has been much more frustrating than I had anticipated. This was the first thing I thought of when I saw this fortune.

You will conquer obstacles to achieve success

The obstacles we have encountered mostly involve the mountains of paperwork required to petition the Chinese government to grant us permission to work in their country.

I am in no way an expert on international travel and employment, but I do know that the requirements vary greatly from country to country. In most countries, a foreigner will need a work visa in order to work there. You simply apply for a work visa instead of a tourist visa and you are good to go. However, China is harder to get into than the Playboy mansion. You must have an invitation.

We've had our fingerprints run for criminal background checks. We've sent our resumes to have them translated into Mandarin. They needed our marriage license, our original college degrees, copies of our passports, some new passport-type photos, letters of reference from the places we have worked to ensure the accuracy of our resumes and a health physical.

They have received everything they need from us except for two pieces of paperwork. My TESOL certification and the paperwork from our physicals. These papers have proven to be more troublesome than Ryan Lochte's account from his night out in Rio.

I don't actually have a TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) certificate and there is a reason for this. I shouldn't need one.

I spent two years going to graduate school to get my Master's degree in TESOL. This means I have a Master's degree. That is supposed to be an impressive document. The TESOL certificate can be obtained by attending some weekend classes for a month. It is a much, much, MUCH smaller undertaking. Having a Master's degree trumps having a certificate. No one would ask a doctor to see proof that he has taken a CPR course because he is a doctor.

Now, this may be frustrating, but I understand. Sort of. Things work differently in different countries. Paperwork and regulations vary from place to place and carry different weight. Add a language and cultural barrier into the mix and it can get quite complicated. Since their paperwork says I have to produce a TESOL certificate, if I can't do that, then I have not met their requirements. No amount of explaining (or tears) will change that.

Luckily, I went to the fantastic school Lincoln Christian University. I called them and explained my dilemma. Since I had more than met the requirements of what it takes to get a certificate from them in getting my Master's, they agreed to issue me a certificate. I love my school. I should get it on August 31.

The second obstacle has yet to be conquered. We are required to get a health physical. Anyone coming to work in China needs to be of reasonably good health and not be bringing particular communicable diseases into their country. This makes sense. However, getting this physical is not easy. It must be performed at a Chinese Embassy-approved facility and we must bring the proper forms to have filled out by the doctor.

These forms are nowhere to be found on the internet and even our employer in China has no idea where to find them. We also have had no luck in finding out where these embassy-approved facilities are. It's like a real-life Where's Waldo book. After literally hundreds of phone calls to the embassy in Chicago for the last six weeks, we are no closer to the answer than when we started. Plus, once I get all excited about getting naked in front of someone, it just has to happen before I can get a good night sleep.

I know these roadblocks will eventually be overcome and we will end up in China in the end. It has just been a very frustrating process. I'm sticking it out for the endless supply of fried wontons.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Fortune Cookie #10 - Adventure Is Where You Find It

Time just gets away sometimes.
It has been 1,033 days since my last Fortune Cookie post. I've forgotten to write these for a while, but never forgot to keep collecting my fortunes. I will try to get caught up. It may take a while.

Since I have been saving my fortunes and not writing about them right away, they are not in very good condition. However, they are still legible.

Not according the the makers of Pokémon Go

I am a complete believer in the philosophy that "life is what you make of it", but adventure is within? I'm not sure I believe that one. Having an active imagination may be great for helping you pass the time during times of extreme boredom (while doing menial labor, sitting in a doctor's office, looking at a friend's vacation slide show, spending time with your children, etc.), but it is far from an adventure. Adventures in my head are just thoughts about adventure. They are not adventure.

Unless we want to redefine the word, adventure will have to include the venture part of the word.

Whether we are talking about the verb or noun, both definitions involve doing something and the only thing I do within is process food stuffs into an inedible sludge to be expelled the next morning. An extreme meat and cheese day may require much more effort to accomplish the expulsion part, but it is still far from an adventure. Adventure is outside. I don't care what the fortune cookie wizards have to say about it.

To test this theory, we left the apartment last weekend to visit downtown Indianapolis. GenCon was in town and we love to go nerd watching and be jealous that we aren't in costume also. However, before even getting there, the adventure of being outside found us.

The red car is the one I hit.
The girl is only crying because her Pokémon got away.

Due to me gawking at a motorcycle, I rear-ended the car in front of us when the car in front of her stopped suddenly. The sound of metal on metal told me immediately, "YOU ARE IN THE MIDST OF ADVENTURE!"

This sort of thing just doesn't happen when you are sitting at home having an adventure "within". I'm still not even sure that I know what that means. Real adventure is outside beating up your car, talking to police, driving up your insurance rates, giving you seat belt bruises, and traumatizing teen-aged girls in cute little red cars.

Ignore the fortune cookie gypsies. Get outside and have some adventures!

Friday, July 29, 2016

On to Our Next Adventure

It's been about six weeks since my last post and that post was written while Red and I were in Turkey. If you been watching the news, you know that Turkey has had some turmoil recently. Several bombings over the last few months (one happened while we were there), and most recently there was a failed coup to overthrow the government. I swear I had nothing to do with it. I was back in Indiana when everything went down.

Just narrowly missing the economic and military implosion of a Middle East country has given us a renewed sense of adventure and we are ready to leave the Midwest to see what else is out there for us. After a few drinks much consideration, we have decided on our next adventure.



Less than a week before we left for Turkey, we accepted teaching jobs in Beijing, China and plan to leave Indiana sometime in late September. We would go sooner, but the paperwork and legalities involved with moving and working overseas are very complicated and take some time to arrange. 

Almost exactly two years ago, I completed my Master's degree in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). Since then, I have applied for over 100 different positions all over the country and have had no luck. Every college wants someone with at least 5 years experience and every public school requires a degree in education in addition to my current degree. Therefore, unless I just get lucky and find a place that will take me, I just can't seem to find a job in my field.  

When I first moved to Indianapolis almost three years ago, part of my motivation was to be in a bigger city with more language teaching opportunities. I needed to be teaching in a classroom to meet the practicum requirements for my degree and small town Mount Vernon, Illinois just didn't have that. As I was settling into my new Indianapolis apartment, I posted on Facebook about my move and need to find a place to teach in order to graduate. Within hours, I was contacted by a school and offered a job on the spot. This was more than an opportunity to get class credit. It was a real teaching job. Before I even had my degree. But it was in China. 

A friend of mine from college had moved to China after graduating and eventually started an international school in Beijing. It has been quite successful and he has since expanded into more schools and has partnered with many of the local schools there. He was in the need of an English teacher and wanted me to come. I really didn't have any reservations about moving overseas, but I didn't feel that my life was in a place where I could leave the country yet. I had just moved to Indianapolis less than a week before this offer. My daughter had one semester left before graduating high school and I had been dating Red for several months and really felt like this relationship was going somewhere. I couldn't even consider leaving the country at that point. My friend tried to convince me, but it didn't work. I turned him down, but he did check back with me a few months later to see if I would reconsider. I denied him again. He said he would quit calling me about it.

Kirsten's graduation picture
Fast forward to this year and my life has settled in. I married Red and my kids are grown and living their adult lives. However, I still don't work in the field I went to school for and built up all the student loan debt for. In the midst of a conversation about this, Red asked me about my friend in China and if that job offer still stood. I thought about it for a couple of minutes and realized that leaving the country is a workable possibility now and I called him. He was very excited to hear from me and offered a job immediately. After a few minutes of questions about Red, he offered a job to her as well. It was an exciting phone call.

We were leaving for Turkey in a couple of days, so I told him we would start to hammer out the details as soon as we got back into the country. Since then, we have started exchanging paperwork back and forth and selling off our furniture. It's been a whirlwind of activity and a mountain of regulations and paperwork, but this is happening.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

I Might Need Another Wife

A few days ago, Red and I returned from our vacation to Turkey. We spent ten days driving around ancient ruins and huge cities while struggling with the language barrier and trying not to get lost since none of the street signs made any sense to us. We ate exotic foods, drove through mountains, overlooked the Aegean Sea, walked the streets of the ancient city of Troy and got to tour many of the places from the part of the world that is considered to be the cradle of civilization. It was a great vacation despite the dozens of people who tried to talk us out of going to this "dangerous" part of the world.

Throughout this fascinating journey, I was repeatedly amazed at how friendly the people there were. They went above and beyond to make sure that we were happy and having a good time. One day, Red and I were trying to cross a busy intersection in downtown Izmir and were waiting on the median for several buses to cross. Before the last one crossed, a man approached to show us a better way. Where we were trying to cross would have left us in the street too long because of a pedestrian gate. He then walked with us for the next 15 blocks, telling us how much he appreciated seeing Americans in his city.

Due to the recent bombings (most of which are on the Syrian border) and the government-issued travel advisory for Americans, most will not venture into Turkey and it is really hurting their tourism money. We heard the same thing from a man selling tour books at the Temple of Artemis and from the proprietor of a rug store. They all wanted to know why Americans are so scared of Turkey.

For me personally, I probably wouldn't have traveled there with the recent warnings if we hadn't already been planning this trip for the last year, but there was no way I was going to cancel after all the effort we had put into this trip. And I am so glad we didn't. We met so many wonderful, smiling people. One today, two kids (about 15 and 12) were really excited to get to talk to Americans. It felt like they were practicing their English, but it was hard to talk because their smiles were so big.

Despite all this friendliness, we did meet one man who struggled to be nice. On our way into the Basilica of St. John in the city of Selçuk, a man approached me to sell me some ancient coins. He claimed to be part of the excavation team there and on Sundays he would sell small artifacts for extra money. He had an ancient Roman coin (w/ the face of Caesar), an Egyptian coin, and a few others. As he was showing me the coins, Red asked if I would display the coins or just end up throwing them in a box. This is a valid question and the man recognized it also. So, re-positioned himself to stand between Red and myself hoping to exclude her from the remainder of the conversation.

I wasn't really sure that I wanted the coins, but he was very aware of the fact that he had my interest. He held up one coin and told me what I could sell it for in the States. Red spoke up to ask if he had a Certificate of Authenticity.

"For what?"

"We can't sell it without one."

"Who told you that."

He shot her a dirty look and then started pulling out business cards of people who buy from him in the States. By now, I had decided that I wasn't interested and started to walk away. He yelled, "WAIT! STOP!"

He ran back to his bag and pulled out another coin. "With this coin right here, this one..." and he stuck it in my face. "You could buy a new, younger wife."

I started to laugh, but he persisted.

"When you only have one wife, she will kill you. You don't need her. Buy this coin and get a new one. More wives is easier."

We then excused ourselves from his persistence and tried to stop laughing. We spent the next few hours touring the Citadel and Basilica. However, he was waiting for us when we came back out.

"I waited for you like you asked."

Red snapped at him, "We didn't ask you to wait."

I just kept walking, but Red decided she still wanted to fight about the legitimacy of having a Certificate of Authenticity. Since I was no longer part of this conversation, I stood at the end of the walkway and yelled to her, "Just keep walking."

Once she successfully excused herself, he called out "Would you like to buy some rugs?"

Over her shoulder, she dismissed him by saying "We bought rugs yesterday."

He retorted, "Mine are better. They can fly."

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Three Days Until Turkey

Red and I are hopping on a plane to Turkey in three days and I am ready to run out the door right now. It feels like the day will never get here. For me, this is my first trip out of the country. I lived in Puerto Rico for a short period, but that is technically still in the United States. I did have to take an international flight to get there, but I don't think that counts. This will be my actual real authentic indisputable first time. Red has traveled the world and even lived in three countries outside of the U.S., but this is all new to me.

We are flying out of Chicago instead of Indianapolis (where we live) because it was almost $1,000 cheaper. We're driving to Chicago to leave our car at a friend's house and then are hopping a train and a subway to get us to the airport. So, if we don't die on the subway (first time on a subway also), we should arrive in Ankara, Turkey about 10 p.m. on June 1.

March 13, 2016 - Ankara, Turkey
The city we're initially traveling to
Second car bombing in two weeks
I really don't know what to expect from this trip. This part of the world is radically different from everything here in the States and our government even has issued a travel warning to Americans traveling to Turkey. There's a bit of turmoil happening there right now, but we have discovered that this drastically brings down costs. We're spending a few nights in a resort area right on the Aegean Sea for $50/night. Political turmoil has its advantages!

We plan to visit the sites of several of the churches mentioned in Revelation and visit Troy. We have a lot of driving to do, so we'll have to adjust to their driving laws. That part should be fun. I'm curious how many street signs we will actually be able to read.

On a side note, my doctor has been carefully monitoring my diet for the last month and has not been happy with the way I eat. I really can't say I blame him. He asked me what I will be eating while I'm in Turkey.


I mean, seriously? I'm on vacation.

He decided that was fair. I have to start my food diary again as soon as I get back. In the meantime, I will be sure to not only post about all the places we visit each day, but also about the new and exciting foods that we will be eating.

I really do plan to eat everything.