Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Finding a Home

When you think of the word home, we conjure up different things, maybe for you an actual house or appartment,
or a paticular room, mum´s cooking or your own comfortable bed or chair. For me personally I have always liked the
expression that ´ home is where the heart is ´. For me where my immediate family are would be my home, but as I
have chosen the path of travel for now, I still need somewhere to put my head.

I have come to the conclusion after now having lived in three cities, that when you relocate without assistance, one has to give it a week in order to find suitable accomodation and put your whole heart into it. There is an element of
intuition involved, in listening well to what the landlord or future roomate says to you on the phone. Be careful in how much information you give, be guarded but sound responsible, serious and respectable. Stick within your chosen budget, but be willing to compromise or go up a little. Do not be afraid to negotiate, whilst the appartment/house is
still available, there is a chance that you could live there still.

Take into consideration not only the beauty, but more importantly the location, access to public transport, travel time, if there are stores in the vicinity. Not withstanding look at your roomate or landlord with a critical eye. Is the house tidy, bathroom clean, the garbage collecting in a corner.... Probably most important is the windows and door.
If you are unsure, make sure that it is a contract that allows you to leave before the final date, put in a trial period or
reasonable notice clause. Read the contract thoroughly so that you do not get any surprises later.

Bear in mind, more often than not, that the deposit will likely not be returned to you for you may fall short in one of the requirements and you must not depend on this sum for future rentals. If there is something missing in the room, be it light, mirror, bedside table, don´t be afraid to request. Remember that this is going to be your home too and you wish to feel comfortable there. Don´t be in too much of a hurry to give up any communal space, for example that your roomates will take over the kitchen and you will be loathe to go inside when they are there.

Shopping for groceries, shoe repairs, dry cleaning and a washing machine either at home or nearby are extremely
important, as you do not want to have to lug your parcels from a distant spot. Go looking presentable, be courteous
and non aggressive. Ask if you may hang pictures, use facilities or if you can install a telephone. Check the TV, radio
or DVD works. In other words, be more thorough than you would be in your own home, for remember this is going
to be your new residence and you are not in charge!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Different Strokes

How nice it would be if we were all the same, but how boring that could prove to be. Have you stood up and said 'me? I have no prejudice' and truly meant it, but when you have seen someone smoking within your vicinity, turned up your nose in disgust? We all have, whether it be cigarettes, spitting on the street, someone sneezing noisily and many other things besides.

Some of us are happy to conform with life's etiquette's of good behavior and manners, others are willing to follow the regular fashion that is the Norma in that country or area, but others of us choose to be more individualistic and then have to be prepared to suffer the consequences of our actions. Even if we are non conformist, we do not always agree with the opinion of others. For example, myself, who has a 'style' of my own, probably a little more colorful than others, even though today some black attire has crept into my wardrobe, did not agree with someone's opinion recently. The point under discussion was dressing appropriately. One student of mine said that at a 'mock' interview at the university recently, they were all told to come in suitable interviewee clothes. One young woman, came with a leather jacket, adorned with steel spikes and bright pink hair. My pupil was quite aghast at her appearance and thought is was unsuitable, I personally replied that I thought that this was the best clothes that the young woman had. Another stated that he felt that if you bought front seats to the Opera, this would entitle you to turning up in shorts and sneakers. Another classmate totally disagreed, feeling that this show would be disrespectful both to the actors and audience both.

Whether we like it or not, there are rules and if we are unable to abide by them, then we should not put ourselves in a position of having to do so. Nevertheless, it should be made plain, irrelevant of personal bias and the person in question given the opportunity to dress in a more appropriate fashion, based on their experience and suitability for the job in hand. If they are then unable to do so, then the connection may be severed. Nevertheless, in this day and age, discrimination in the work place is still strife and should be a factor taken under consideration before you leave home.

Furthermore, bear in mind that in places such as Asia, voice and tone can also cause difficulties for somewhere such as China, saving face is of prime importance and an aggressive tone or reprimand can be misunderstood and a relationship broken. These are things that we learn only through trial and error and cannot be explained or taught, only experienced. Once I had some students who had gone to Japan on business. There was a fault in the product being produced there and upon their arrival and subsequent meeting with the CEO, proceeded to put him directly in the know. A further few days was spent being wined and dined, whilst the product was being altered. At the end of their stay, they were informed in no uncertain terms, that there would be no further business between the two companies. The visitors were shocked and could not understand what had happened, after all, they had been treated most cordially during their stay. What they failed to realise though, was that the losing face at the initial meeting put an end to any further dealings, but as not to fall low in the eyes of the foreigner, all had been carried out to the highest standard as not to invoke the same circumstance for the envoy.

Who said relocation was easy? No one to my knowledge, but it is interesting, challenging, fun and an adventure. Though as to making money, this will in the main be possible and fruitful if you will be on an expat salary, but is a means for travelling abroad.

Being In the Know!

There are some basic pieces of information that one needs to know before one embarks on the
relocation itself. Somehow the ´handbook´ or lack of never seems to be available. Websites, tips, chat rooms etc.. all have some of the bits and bobs that you need, but never the whole picture. On top of that, there is always the under the table, most important facts, that never seem to come to light, until you report of some mishap or other and everyone seems to nod there heads in agreement, knowing exactly what you mean!

For example: If you are going to a developed country, it is not necessary to pack ´everything but the kitchen sink´ for the price that you will pay for overweight, far outweighs the inconvenience and adventure of going to buy the appropriate items in your new abode. Airlines today are far more strict with their overload, plastic bags with those items that would not fit in your case, food and general extra packages that you choose to pack yourself up with.

One has to plan to have accommodation for at least a week, whilst you look for an appropriate room or apartment, that will fit both your needs and budget. Be prepared to go out of the city limits in your quest. Each country has its own set of rules and regulations and if you are determined to stick within your means, you may find this more time consuming as well as stressful on your nerves and feet, than previously thought. Of course I am not talking to those who will be relocating under the umbrella of a company, together with schooling and apartment budget laid on, but to those of us, who seek opportunity elsewhere, whether for adventure, escape, language, love or just to travel, even all of the aforementioned.

How much you choose to pay or where you will rest your head for the first nights is personal, but as a further tip, may I suggest that you make sure there is a local Internet cafe or center nearby (as more often than not the Internet in the hotel is either expensive or unobtainable), you are near to metro/subway/underground and buses and know the prices of local transport tickets in advance to get the best options.

For one such as me, who claims to be 'old fashioned' in the ways of computer surfing, I have surpassed and shocked my former abilities of myself, by becoming out of necessity, quite computerised; this of course has been more out of necessity than will. There is also all kinds of other information that you will only learn and glean upon arrival, but do not be afraid to ask strangers for help as more often or not, locals will know better and be more accommodating in answering your questions than fellow ex pats.

Points to look out for and request information on are telephone cards, if you have a bank account, the costs for calls are much cheaper. In some countries such as China, they will take the fee off your prepaid card, but you will need the assistance of a Chinese person to help you achieve that. This will make incoming calls cheaper and not charged at the full rate. As for Internet (of course use the facilities at work) there are many kinds of service, but a prepaid key
makes you independent and usually comes with its own Sim and prepaid hours. This can be then topped up easily either monthly, or as needed. The cheapest of course would be to get Internet that is attached to a land line, but this will depend on your future landlord.

Surprisingly enough, in Italy it is very difficult to get passed the Government red tape, even if you have a European passport, that includes opening Bank Accounts, receiving monies from abroad through Money gram and other inconveniences. Let me add that there is always a way
round, don't give up, just look for a foreign outpost that services nationals from other countries to be more helpful. Credit cards will be an almost impossibility, you are better off to buy a prepaid one from your own country, or incur the costs of using your own from back home. Don't
grimace and say that you are used to paying only with plastic, for when you are abroad and as of yet unsure as to your regular or permanent salary, cash is better.

Health insurance, unless you have the appropriate European card, is something you should have
and there are plenty of websites that offer cheap coverage. In some countries, such as China, even though there are plenty of Clinics or Hospitals for foreigners, they are expensive and even moreover reluctant to treat you unless for emergency. If you have become a permanent resident this may be otherwise and have been known to return monies after complaints have been lodged. When I broke my leg they were unwilling to treat me in the Mainland and also the emergency treatment was poor as they were so afraid to do something wrong, that they did in fact not put something right.

Lastly and most importantly, be prepared for the worst. Even if a job has been promised in writing, emails and phone calls exchanged, expense incurred in your moving and relocation to the place of your new employment, things can still go wrong and you may find yourself jobless, out of funds and with a signed contract on a room or apartment before you can pause for breath. Does this seem unlikely or unfair? Yes to both, but these things happen. At best, it would be to have an online interview with video or if you can afford it, go first for a scout and face to face interview before you set out upon your way. Even if work is given or provided, it does not mean that you will be given the appropriate workload straight away and it will take time to build up trust and rapport for you to obtain the necessary position.

The phrase 'when in Rome, be like the Romans' I can now vouch as being one of the truest statements, not so for China, for one can never be like them even if you have lived there for 25 years, but in Rome, as opposed to the rest of Europe (France included, there you just have to be able to speak French) if you do not fit into their category of 'Roman' you will not fit in at all.
Remember forewarned is forearmed.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

´The Art of Relocation!`

Yes, I have come to the conclusion, that relocating is an art in itself. There should be courses on it at the university, not just lectures and a pat on the back with a resounding call of ´good luck´as
you breeze out the door. There definitely needs to be a proper training in the what to do, how to find out and how to stop yourself from pulling your hair out!

It should come easily to a semi pro such as me, for after all my first re location was at the age of
16, when I was send away to ´finishing school´in Switzerland, Luzern for a year. I still have memories of my large and heavy suitcase (not on wheels in those days), a box containing books and a bag filled with paperwork and monies. I was not alone, as there were around 12 of us coming from London or England and mostly knew each other from school or community activities, but nevertheless it was still a little daunting.

We travelled from Gatwick to Zurich and there had to catch a train to Luzern. As there was no
way we could lug our bags alone, we shared a large wagon with porter in tow. The only problem was that we were not geared up for Swiss trains, you know. those that leave punctually on the dot! I still have visions of us throwing the cases aboard, holding on to the door handle, as we
scrambled aboard our train. The frowns of the guard sent us into a fit of giggles as we tumbled and stumbled over our cases and into our seats.

Our troubles did not stop there, but as we were in a group, we eventually shuffled along, learnt the local lingo and found our favorite haunts for shopping. But, to date, I remember well going into the heart of the city for the first time, buying my bus ticket at the vending machine and being the only one to step onto the bus. Hysterical laughter followed my tram as the group I had started out with, were now left behind and I was the only one being transported along! Getting off at the next stop, I beat a fast retreat back to the previous stop, to be greeted by my peers, with tears of laughter rolling down their cheeks, for you see, I had now idea how to get back without them! Daunting when you are only 16 and more than a few years ago. Bearing this in mind, I thought the next time it was time to move house, it would have the same laughter, but a lot more maturity to make the way more smooth.

Thirteen years later, there I was off again, but this time with entourage. After careful planning, but in the end in haste, I packed up my brood of 4 and relocated to another country, leaving my
husband behind. My home sold, but another having been bought through a video clip, I moved
myself, children and 10 suitcases in all, to the Middle East. My first day was spent walking around the streets, with two in the buggy and the other two on either side, looking for the local
supermarket!! Not being able to speak the local language, I used a mixture of hand signals and
sounds of a cow, to explain that I was looking for milk! Through my tears, not of laughter as of
yet, we muddled through and eventually settled down to a new life.

Next, well as you know already, or if you don´t read back through the blog, I made it to China.
Now one could well say, ´if you made it in China, you can make it anywhere!´ True I must reply,
but as you read on, you will see it has not been so easy.....

Well, I´m back! But still travelling.....

For those of you who have followed my adventures in China, please may I first apologise for
stopping the blog mid term, but I decided to put my musings down into a book, which I am now
hoping will be published..... watch this spot for further details.

In brief summary, let me say that I finalized my teachings there at the end of August and decided to relocate once more... this is where begins the new travel log and happenings in a
new European location begin.

I hope that you will join me once more on my mishaps, meetings and false starts as I muddle my
way along once more in the ´Art of Relocation!´

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Crackers, but Christmas has passed!

Well, Chinese New Year has arrived and if you are unsure whether it is upon you or not, you just have to make sure that you support yourself with a good pair of ear plugs as the firecrackers are being let off morning, noon and night! Also the red lanterns are out on the roads again, adding to
a festive feel, whilst fireworks light up the sky. Nevertheless it seems strange to me in a country that is so careful as to the welfare of its children, it lets them run around freely pulling lit firecrackers along behind them!

The shops pre new year were full of shoppers as they purchased food items in gift packs and red underwear for those whom the Golden Year of the Ox is their birth year, so have to wear a red item
on their person the whole year through. Visitors from the west are always under the impression that things in China are 'dirt' cheap, but this is not so, as quality items and fashion couture names are probably even more expensive here than in Europe, whereas cheap items can be bought anywhere in the world, the difference being here that some brands have given permission to have their items
copied, but in some cases do not. Buying cheap for limited funds usually means poor quality, but
what there is here in abundance is 'factory' outlets where you can purchase the real item, at half price. This in turn could be likened to an extremely classy second hand store, where you at times
can pick up new goods but for half their retail tag.

Knowing how to bargain is the key, research of prime importance and knowing when to walk away either when you have met your match or in hope of a better deal. I personally only go shopping when I am in the market
to make a purchase, whether it be with friend, colleague or student, I will
argue the price till I get the deal that I want. Do not be intimidated or believe all that you read in the guide books about the 'aggressive' sales people, money changing hands will always talk.

New Year is a family time and China is no different to anywhere in the world, where members wish
to be together and it rather nice and not at all disturbing to hear the noise of my neighbors as they
go up and down the stairs in groups, laughing and chattering away to each other in their excitement. Looking out the window it is also a pleasing sight to see the inhabitants of this city bundled up against the wind and cold, clutching their red parcels and gifts, laden in their arms, as they ensure that they make their way to pay their respects to all members of their extended family.
Here even though our cultures are different, festivities are generally the same.

Eating as I have mentioned before never ceases to astonish me, but even though slurping soup and pulling up noodles with a whoosh and not like we eat spaghetti, there is a custom to the order of eating. Chopsticks should be used in communal dishes, working your way from the outside in, but for others a separate set is used. Napkins though are small and licking sticky fingers surprisingly not acceptable. The delicate way of rolling up Peking Duck can be tricky, but the taste
is delicate and worthwhile. In my opinion though, as I have said before, Chinese food is generally
too wet either being cooked in too much oil or water for my taste.

It is nice though to see the locals come out of hibernation in the cold winter, wrapped up in an array of woolly caps and hats, scarves and fur lined boots, with thick sheepskin gloves adorning their hands. Even though snow has as of yet not appeared, the cold has a way of seeping through your bones. Taxis on a freezing morning can be an impossibility to find, causing one to wait for more than 30 minutes whilst they pass by full and unwilling to stop, although I have found that with a cane in hand, they are more obliging than without and ofter come around the side to offer assistance if
needed or not.

So, I have read my horoscope, am taking the required vacation, snuggling up in my central centrally heated apartment, working my way through my pantry and catching up on my blog.
What will this year hold in store? For that I shall have to wait and see. Hopefully for all of us,
good health, peace and prosperity and I will add to that love of your family, good friendship and
enjoyment in whatever you do.

Culture vs Culture

It is so easy to be judgemental and so important not to be, when one lives abroad you have to remember that we are only visitors or guests and even if our stay should be for a long while, unless we take upon ourselves citizenship, we do not have the true right to pass ruling.

Being away from home during the time of the Gaza war, has for me put a different perspective on how it is to be an outsider and listen to what people say or hint at in their opinion of your country and what is happening there. But nevertheless, one sees cultural differences and wonder how long it will take to cross the barrier to reach a better understanding.

Today KFC and McDonald's have not only cornered the market on fast food, but have managed to create a menu that appeals to the Chinese taste, but labelled as an all American brand, including noodles and rice into their list as well as french fries. This reminds me of the time when Chinese food hit the Mediterranean and those who came to sample the food, would insist on bread being served as an accompaniment to their meal, today years on, not being the case any longer.

Saying this, the will to fit into a western civilization doesn't include the use of mobile phones like outside China, here they are more for personal fun and usage than being a public disturbance.
It is not that business people will not sit at a meal and talk on their phone, but less obvious th an it is abroad when two, three people or more will partake of a meal together and each one is oblivious of the other whilst they hold their own personal conversations with whomever it is on the other end. Otherwise they are more like toys, with each one having more facilities and toys than the next, as each one vies for more functions. Here using the phone whilst driving is forbidden, but as their seems to be a greater shortage of policeman on the street to check on this crime, so accidents whilst driving do happen.
It is amazing how many cars there are on the roads, but more amazingly how they all look in mint condition, so when asking as to how this was possible, I was told that not only do all cars as
in abroad, have to pass their MOT, but should they have an accident they must fix them as
quickly as possible or be fined. This in a way is a good thing, because the roads even though heavily laden, look cleaner. Strange though that even though this is due to aesthetics is also because of the environmental issue, but when I see the factory funnel chimneys billowing out white smoke, this seems a strange contradiction.

In a society where again the policy is one child, it is difficult for mothers of other nations who are planning to have a baby, when their present child turns around and asks "why. don't you love
me any longer?" What most parents have to realise is, that all children, whatever the age, will feel jealousy at some point at the birth of a new baby, whether it be immediate or at a later age or stage. It is normal. What is maybe different, is that because of the onus of socializing here in China with work colleagues, it is extremely important if one wants to ensure a successful promotion in the future, to go out with work mates is a must and be part of the external life that
is work. Today with difficulties being faced by some of the companies and salary reductions being enforced, it is hard for some who have come to regard the work place as their home, either
because it is their first place of employment or because of friends. I myself have always counted
myself as extremely lucky as the places where I have worked have not only become family, but have continued to remain so many years later.