"Wish You Happy Every Day": An Expat's Life in China


Riding in Cars with Aiyi
November 1, 2015, 9:01 pm
Filed under: daily life in china, dalian, the expat life | Tags: ,

To hail a taxi with the attitude of “Ha! This is only two dollars!” is pure economic freedom.

It’s not something I can do in America. In Dalian, though, it’s worth budgeting for even if your earnings are meager, for there will be days when 5 o’clock rolls around and thought of getting hit by a bus actually sounds better than that of having to squeeze into one. Just picture that hot summer’s day, roiling in the stench of humanity . . . and a raw garlic-eating portion of humanity at that.

There’s another bonus attached to taxis, for those expats who are learning Chinese. When I had first moved to China, my principle teachers of Chinese were taxi drivers. (Then I started running out of money, and I sought to learn Chinese from fruit vendors.)

And once you get some basic communication skills, you realize that every taxi driver is different. I re-learned that during this past trip. However, because I was with Lipeng, most of them would ask him all sorts of questions about me–“Where is she from? What’s her job? Does she understand any Chinese? Wow, she’s really white/beautiful!”–as though I were his exotic pet. Once, we shared a cab with an older lady in the early evening. She and the ruddy-faced, accelerator-happy driver cackled as they tested my comprehension of Dalianhua. Oh God, I thought, they’re drunk. They’re drunk and we’re gonna crash and the last thing I hear before I die will be coarse ers and ars and ahs of Dalianhua.

(We did not die.)

My favorite taxi driver of all, however, is a woman who goes by Aiyi. Bless your heart if you get the privilege of riding with her. She will get you where you need to go, and she’ll chat you up in her grade school English, which remarkably she still remembers. She’s a woman cabbie and she’s no pushover.

“Go! Fuck!” Beep beep. “Move! Go, baby!” Another punctuative honk, and the car that had been blocking the intersession moved to let us pass. “Thank you!”

Yet you can hear the warmth, the toughness, even an almost nurturing lilt outlining her thick Dalian accent, even if you can’t speak Chinese. When she speaks English, the thing that comes out is her joy.

“I pick up a Colombian girl at the Shengri Di La hotel. You know? I speak English, she so surprised! She work in the hotel be a singer, and she give me a free concert! In my car!”

As an English learner, Aiyi is an interesting case. She’s one of those people who doesn’t let a limited command over a foreign language get in the way of expressing herself. “I love English,” she told me.  Her dream was to be an English teacher–but she now feels too old to pursue formal study. Because her parents didn’t have a lot of money when she was growing up, she was unable to go to college. That opportunity had gone to her brother, who now works in a multinational corporation and frequently travels to other countries on business.

Like many Chinese, things are turning around for the next generation: her daughter, 23, is finishing her last year of college, and to make that happen Aiyi has taken the night shift while her husband drives a daytime taxi.

And as far as English goes, I think Aiyi seeks out opportunities to practice just because she enjoys it. She pays 150 RMB a month to park outside the foreigner clubs (JD’s, Suzie Wong’s, Shengri Di La). So if you’ve gone out and you’re ready to call it a night, look for a female cabbie–it could be Aiyi!

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Dalian and the Children of the Sea
March 27, 2015, 5:58 pm
Filed under: Chinese culture, daily life in china, dalian | Tags: ,

A centerpiece of the Dalian local’s identity is that of being a child of the sea.  That’s true, at least, of my husband, who needs to live near water to feel content. He shared with me a song about growing up by the sea, called “Big Sea, My Home,” (大海啊故乡)which every Chinese person knows. So here’s a bit of Chinese culture:

大海啊故乡

And for those of you learning Chinese, here are the lyrics and their translation:

小时候妈妈对我讲
When I was young, my mother told me
大海就是我故乡
that the big sea is indeed my home.
海边出生 海里成长
Born by the sea, raised in the sea,
大海 啊大海 是我生长的地方
 oh, big sea, the place where I’ve spent my life.
海风吹 海浪涌 随我飘流四方
 As the sea wind blows, an electrical current drifts in all directions.
大海 啊大海 就像妈妈一样
Oh, big sea, you are like my mother,
走遍天涯海角 总在我的身旁
walking to the ends of the earth, yet always by my side.
小时候妈妈对我讲
When I was young, my mother told me
大海就是我故乡
that the sea is indeed my home,
海边出生 海里成长
born by the sea, raised in the sea,
大海 啊大海 是我生长的地方
oh, big sea, the place where I’ve spent my life.
海风吹 海浪涌 随我飘流四方
As the sea wind blows, an electrical current drifts in all directions.
大海 啊大海 就像妈妈一样
Oh big sea, you are like my mother,
走遍天涯海角 总在我的身旁
walking to the ends of the earth, yet always by my side.
大海 啊大海 就像妈妈一样
Oh big sea, you are like my mother,
走遍天涯海角 总在我的身旁
walking to the ends of the earth, yet always by my side.
大海啊故乡 大海啊故乡
Big sea, my home; big sea, my home;
我的故乡 我的故乡
my home, my home.

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Dalian, a city on the edge of a peninsula, is ringed with beaches — so it’s no surprise that it’s the place to be during the summer. After the long winter (seriously long — 7 months at least), everyone emerges from their homes and offices to play badminton, dance, play majiang on the street corners or just walk around the beaches.

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A misty day at the beach.

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Fujiazhuang Beach

After a long week of students crying in my office over grades, paperwork and the general motion of my daily routine, I find myself longing to chill on a rocky beach in Dalian, enjoy a cold beer (yes, you can find them in China) and munch on barbecued seafood.

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Me, enjoying a bite-sized abalone.

So excited to be going back for a short visit this summer! See you then, Dalian!



The Past Two Weeks in Pictures, 3/28/11
March 28, 2011, 5:55 am
Filed under: dalian, week in pictures | Tags:

I apologize for the lack of updates; I’ve been pretty busy with a new class. In addition, Pam’s friend Marlin is here from Canada, so we’ve been experiencing Marlin Mania. So, I haven’t been taking as many pictures. I’m actually in the middle of an actual post about teaching, since I haven’t written in a while. In the meantime, though, here are a few random shots from the past two weeks.

Marlin arrived late Tuesday night…and so did food. So, so much food, none of which you can find here in Dalian: jello, popcorn, four different kinds of mustard, maple syrup, smokies, sour candies, cheese, GOOD COFFEE, EARL GREY, bagels, saskatoon berry jam, pistachios, pesto, and…oh, I don’t know, so, so much. Plus, the sparkly bacon T-shirt that Pam is wearing!

Despite Marlin Mania, life has continued as usual. Here are three of my students giving a presentation on a story they wrote about animals with powers. From left to right: Sam, David and Tom.

Merry Christmas everyone!!! Wait a minute…isn’t it March? The entrance to underpass in Victory Square.

Any time I see a “COFFEE” sign I get excited. This is a view from the inside of SPR Coffee, a cafe that is somewhat frequented by the expat crowd. Actually, the coffee is terrible and the food is overpriced, but they do decent cappuccinos and they have comfy chairs. It’s a nice place to come an relax, as it’s never really crowded and the staff doesn’t discourage loitering.

A shot of my friends Chris, Pam and finally me, taken at Chris’ place. I think that when I leave Dalian, one of the things I’ll miss most will be all the evenings we hung out at Chris’. Did I mention that I am the Nostalgia Queen? I know that in a few years I’ll find myself revisiting this blog and crying my eyes out…



The Week in Pictures, 3/10/11: Dalian at Night
March 10, 2011, 7:54 am
Filed under: dalian, week in pictures | Tags:

Night life in Dalian is fairly lively…unless, of course, you’re an English teacher whose days off fall on weekdays. Well, clubs aren’t all that interesting anyway. Here’s a peek at what happens to Dalian’s streets after the sun has gone down…

A night market near Youhao Square. In Dalian–and, I suppose–in many Chinese cities–night markets are quite popular.Now that it’s warmer out, they’re popping up everywhere. You can buy anything: street food, jewelry, T-shirts with bad English, hats with bad English, slippers, even underwear!

An underpass by Qingniwaqiao, across from Victory Square. I think the lighting puts a bit of cheer and excitement into people’s nightly excursions.

Youhao Square. At the center of the square is a giant disco ball. Don’t ask me why. No sleep till Brooklyn? Pshaw. No sleep till DALIAN!

While wandering around, I stumbled upon a church on Yuguang Street. I have been looking for a church forever – there’s nothing like going to a church, or any place of worship, to escape the noise and haste of city life. I almost missed this one, as it was hidden inside a construction wall. At the alter, you can see a cross, and, below, a menorah! I suppose they have services for multiple faiths. Flanked on either side are chinese characters: “一吗。。。内科“, or “yima…neike,” which I haven’t been able to translate. The second word, “neike,” literally means medicine that is meant to cure internal illnesses (as opposed to visible wounds). I asked my co-workers about “yima,” but even they didn’t know. “The one mother can heal your soul”? Your guess is as good as mine.

The Dalian International Airport at night. Guess I’ll be stuck here another year…



The Week in Pictures, 3/2/11
March 3, 2011, 2:55 am
Filed under: dalian, week in pictures | Tags:

Every Thursday, I will be posting a new series called the Week in Pictures, featuring pictures that I have taken of different things in Dalian. I stole the idea from the New York Times. Enjoy!

Even though Christmas has long passed, you can still see a scripted “Merry Christmas” in the window. These kind of homages to Christmas are quite common in Dalian, and are usually accompanied with tacky Christmas decorations. Except for the Chinese characters, this picture reminds me of what a typical Brooklyn diner looks like around Christmas time. (By the way, we order take out from this restaurant. In Chinese. Yeah!)

A room in a tea house. Pam and I came here to study Chinese. A pot of tea is 50 yuan and comes with a hot water canister. The table can also be used as a mahjong table.

A football field near a power plant and a steel mill. The banner above says, “Fight on, China” or “Go, China”


A stream of garbage I pass on my way to work. Around this area, you can often see stray dogs rummaging for food.

Three of my favorite students! They’ve just finished reviewing for their exam and, since there were only three students that day, we decided to let them play Life. From left to right – Sophia, Kitty and Leo.