Terra-cotta Soldiers in Xi’an

Good Morning,

We FINALLY went to see the terra-cotta soldiers in Xi’an! This has been on our bucket list since we moved to China, and we finally made it happen last week.Untitled designIMG_8716IMG_8717Like most of our trips these days, we booked it on a whim. We rode the bullet train from Nanjing to Xi’an on Tuesday morning at 9am, and arrived in Xi’an at 2:30pm. We had the option to fly for the same price (faster too), but we wanted to see the scenery along the way. Also, I was over the whole airport and airplane thing at the moment. I feel like we’re constantly on planes, and I just wanted to take a relaxing ride.DSC_5665DSC_5659Once we arrived in Xi’an, we took the subway to our hotel. We stayed at a brand new Holiday Inn Express and had no complaints. It was located downtown within the city wall and only cost $60 for one night!IMG_8720 After dropping our bags off in our room, we immediately walked to the city wall. The wall was huge, so we rented a tandem bike to get around the whole thing. This was so much easier than trying to walk only a portion of it. It also created a ton of fun memories! Taylor and I laughed the whole way around that wall. 🙂 DSC_5666IMG_8724DSC_5668DSC_5664IMG_8782Untitled design-2IMG_8768IMG_8835IMG_8799IMG_8828-2img_8845.jpgAfter completing the full loop of the wall, we walked to the Muslim market. There’s a pretty big Muslim community in Xi’an, so you have to see the market if you’re visiting the area. We stopped for snacks along the way. 2IMG_8865.jpg3For dinner that night, we ate at an Italian restaurant called Isola del Nord, which was a short walk from our hotel. It was very difficult to find, but worth it! The food was a great way to end our day. IMG_8875

The next day, we were up bright and early to see the terra-cotta soldiers! The soldiers are actually located an hour outside the city and there are a couple ways to get there. You can take the public bus or a Didi (chinese uber). We opted for the bus, which was the cheapest ($2 per person).Untitled design-3This was one of the most fascinating things we’ve seen and learned about in China. The exhibit has 3 major pits that display the terra-cotta figures. What’s even crazier, is that they weren’t discovered until the 70’s!! Pit 1, the largest, was discovered in March 1974. Pit 2 was found the following month, and pit 3 wasn’t found until that June! They were discovered by some farmers who were trying to dig a well for water. While they were digging, they found a few pottery pieces, which lead to the finding of the terra-cotta army. I don’t know about you, but I would love to know what was going through those farmer’s minds on that day. Obviously, they lost their land. :/ DSC_56782DSC_5679The soldiers were created by Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi, who was preparing an army for his after-life. He never recorded anything about his hidden army, because he wanted it to be left undisturbed. (This seemed like a whole lot of preparations for an after-life to me.) What’s fascinating, was that each soldier was hand-crafted differently. There are no two alike. DSC_5691DSC_5675IMG_8918To this day, they’re still uncovering pieces and putting soldiers back together. Uncovering something of this magnitude takes a lot of caution and time. While there are large working areas set up, it’s rare to actually see someone working in the pits. I assume they work at night when the site is closed. I can’t imagine how creepy that would be! Legend says that if you listen closely, you can hear the soldiers talking to one another. 😉 DSC_5740DSC_5742IMG_8921DSC_5736DSC_5718DSC_57131IMG_8915Once we were done walking through all the exhibits, we took the bus to the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda back in Xi’an. DSC_5754.jpgThis is a Buddhist pagoda that was built in the year 652 during the Tang Dynasty. Instead of entering the pagoda, we just walked through the park surrounding it. It was a beautiful day! DSC_5751.jpgBefore heading to our train, we grabbed coffee at a Starbucks Reserve and walked around the Muslim market one more time. IMG_8931Untitled designIMG_8939.jpgInstead of paying for a hotel another night and then taking the bullet train back to Nanjing, we booked tickets on an overnight slow train. Taylor has been begging me to do this since we arrived in China, and I finally caved. I will say, I was pleasantly surprised with our soft-sleeper experience. Here’s a little general knowledge about overnight trains in China:

There are 3 classes: Hard, Soft, and Deluxe.

Hard: 6 bunks per room, no door, squatty potty bathroom, and the cheapest.

Soft: 4 bunks per room, a locked door, seating area outside, western toilet, extra sinks, pillow, slippers, bedding. (this is the one we selected) – see photo below.

Deluxe: 2 beds per room, a locked door, seating, western toilet, private, pillow, slippers, bedding, and most expensive.

IMG_8946IMG_8947We started off in separate rooms because we purchased tickets so late, but ended up in a room together after I got sick and someone kindly offered to switch with us. Although it’s nothing glamorous, we were more than comfortable for the whole journey. The total trip took us 12 hours. We left the station at 7pm and arrived in Nanjing at 7am. Taking this train made Taylor super happy. 🙂 IMG_8950We arrived back in Nanjing well rested with a full day ahead of us! I see more sleeper-trains in our future. 🙂

Would you stay on an overnight train?

xoxo

10 Differences about China

Ever since we moved to Nanjing, I’ve been compiling a list of all the differences between China and America. Obviously, there are a ton of differences, big and small, so I thought I’d start with one post, and write another one later on if you enjoy it!

This post is based on an American living in Nanjing, China. 

1. Family: China is a very family-oriented country. Kids are the pride and joy here! Families are very close, and spend most holidays eating and being together. There aren’t a lot of single parent families here, and kids don’t experience a lack of parenting with both sets of grandparents usually living with them. Whenever parents go to work, most young kids are looked after by their grandparents. If they’re old enough to be in school, then the grandparents will take/pick them up. At night, you see a lot of families out walking or playing in the park together. Family is everything here.DSC_0523

2. Safety: I was surprised by this! I would never go walking the streets alone at night in America, but I can definitely do it here in Nanjing! Firstly, there are millions of people living in Nanjing, so you’re never really alone. Secondly, the laws are so strict that you can’t get away with anything. There are cameras everywhere so you get the impression that the government is always watching, which instills a fear of punishment and dishonor.DSC_0772

3. Transportation: Taylor and I didn’t grow up in huge cities, so we’re not accustomed to city transportation. There’s a great metro system here, because the traffic is madness (hello 8.3 million people). I was pleasantly surprised at how clean the subway stations were…like 10x cleaner than the ones in New York City!! I would never be able to keep up with traffic in China. It’s every man for himself and you have to watch out for pedestrians, bikers, and scooter drivers. Their depth perception is impeccable, and this crazy system works for them. Every taxi ride is an adventure in itself!IMG_4542.jpg

4. Homes: In America, a lot of people own houses. That’s the American dream right? However, in China, there are almost no houses. It’s very difficult to own property here resulting in very few homes or neighborhoods. So the majority of the population lives in an apartment, typically in a large complex of tall apartment buildings. In America, all the individual apartments are the same within one complex. In China, they are sold as a concrete shell that are then fully customized how the “owner” desires. They’re responsible for installing floors, walls, utilities, bathroom features, etc.Untitled designDSC_0146

5. Drying Clothes: Within our apartment, we have a washing machine, but no dryer. Most families wash their clothes in a washing machine (or hand wash), and then hang them up to dry. This is different, but not the worst. I do miss the quickness a dryer provides and the freshness. DSC_0269

6. Squatty Potties: One of the biggest differences in China, is the toilet situation. First off, you have to squat. Incase you don’t know what I’m talking about- there’s a “toilet” in the ground that you squat over. (It’s as awful as it sounds.) In America, the toilet is above the ground and you sit on it. Not all toilettes are squatty potties, but most of them are in public settings. As if squatting to use the bathroom wasn’t uncomfortable enough, you also have to bring your own toilet paper…yep, that’s right. I have to carry toilet paper around with me at all times. In larger establishments, they will have one or two western toilets and provide toilet paper.IMG_1283

7. Education: I think this is pretty well known, but the school systems here are intense! Most kids leave their homes when they enter middle school, and live at their school from Monday-Friday because they spend all day in class. Everyone wears the exact same uniform, and they are expected to succeed in their education. It is a very competitive environment, where you need to be within the top of your class in order to have the opportunity to attend a high ranking college.IMG_1653

8. Healthcare: In America, it’s more difficult to get your hands on someone else’s medical records than anything else. Thank you HIPPA! It’s clean, sanitary, and expensive. It’s the opposite in China. Depending on the hospital (western vs. eastern), doctors will smoke in their personal offices, depending on the issue you’re examined in front of other people, and sometimes you have to sift through other peoples files to find your own off a printer. However, it’s extremely cheap and efficient so you’re in and out of the hospital within minutes. You can read my full Chinese hospital experience at the hospital HERE.Untitled design

9. Tipping: When going out to eat in America, you typically have one server and you tip them based on your bill. In China, there isn’t one specific person who serves you and it’s not customary to tip. Nobody will check in with you unless you call them over. If you did that in America it would be considered offensive and rude. You can read about all the different food we eat HERE.IMG_1962.jpg

10. Age:  Everyone looks so young here, and it’s very difficult to guess someone’s age! If you ask someone in China how old they are, they will typically tell you the year they’re going towards. In America I would tell you that I’m 26. However, in China I would tell people I’m 27.DSC_0235-2

And that’s just 10 of the ways China differs from our typical American lifestyle! Again, this is just based on our life back in America verses where we’re living in China. I hope you enjoyed this post, and don’t forget to follow my blog and enter your email for notifications whenever I post something new. Let me know in the comments if you’d like to see another post like this!

xoxo

7 Things I Wish I Packed

Hello!

Can you believe it’s already March, and Taylor and I have been living in China for 10 months now!? Within these 10 months, we’ve lived in two different apartments and have visited America a few times since. I thought this was the perfect time to chat about our packing struggles.

As you can imagine, we spent months packing our bags before moving from America to China. We traveled with a total of 4 checked bags (up to 50lbs), 2 carry ons, and 2 personal items. Packing for a 2 year journey was daunting, because anything we didn’t bring along either had to be donated, put in storage, or thrown away. It was an extreme elimination process, which taught us a whole lot about what we valued. For the most part, I feel like we did a pretty good job at packing the necessities. However, now that we’ve been here so long, I can shed light on what we really needed and didn’t need! If you’re planning on being an expat in China, this could be informative to you.

What this blog post won’t be:

  1. A guide to packing for China.
  2. Everything we packed.

Basically, this is a list of 7 things I didn’t pack on our first trip to China, but have made the effort to bring back over the past 10 months!

1-3.jpgFor some reason, I didn’t bring my own backpack when we came over the first time. I don’t think I realized how much I’d need one. We’re constantly on the go, so having a backpack has made life so much easier. I can’t be bothered to carry a tote every time we travel.

2I will never stop bringing snacks back with me. When we landed in China back in June, I had the hardest time eating any food, because I couldn’t find anything I liked. I’ve found some Chinese snacks I enjoy now, but I always LOAD UP a suitcase with my favorite foods from America before returning.

3-1.jpgThe amount of bug bites I acquired over the summer is unreal. I did not expect a huge city like Nanjing to have so many dang mosquitos. I also didn’t realized that almost all the sunscreen here had a “whitening” effect (a cultural thing).

4.jpgBefore coming to China, I asked my good friend Caitlyn about what I should pack. (she lived in China for 2 years too.) Her biggest suggestion, was to pack less clothes and more photographs and personal items. Boy was she right! I took home a ton of clothes before Christmas and came back with a lot more photos and items to make our apartment cozy.

5As we expected, we haven’t found a church here in Nanjing. This means we have to really pour ourselves into devotionals. Every time I return home, I find some more that I can bring back with me.

6.jpgFor the first two months, I went to Starbucks nearly every day. Then, I was kindly sent a mini Keurig. Unfortunately, that Keurig blew a fuse and didn’t produce one single cup of coffee. In the meantime, I settled for a small drip coffee maker. The problem I’ve been having is finding LIQUID coffee creamer and GROUND coffee. Most stores here only sell coffee beans and powdered creamer. Along with my snacks, I like to fill my suitcase with the little individual vanilla coffee creamers from Sams! This lasts me a good bit.

7.jpgLast but not least, makeup! I assumed I’d be able to find all the products I buy at Ulta Beauty in China. I was very, very wrong. Chinese woman have completely different makeup needs, and I have yet to find my staples. They do have Sephora here, but again, they don’t carry all the same products I’m used to in America. Also, I’m not trying to break the bank!

And that’s 7 things I wish I would’ve packed from the start, and always bring back with me! I hope this was interesting to read whether you’re planning on living as an expat or not.

xoxo

Our International Phone Plan

Ni Hao!

Today I wanted to write about something that Taylor and I get questions on a lot. Our phone plans! Kind of a boring topic, but I think it’s informative for someone traveling abroad or moving internationally.

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Before we moved abroad, Taylor and I had contracts with Verizon. We were loyal to them for several years, and we absolutely loved them. We never had any issues and they’ve always been great. When we found out that we were moving to China, our phone plans needed to change because we needed something that allowed us to communicate internationally. Unfortunately, Verizon didn’t have any long-term international plans available. They only offered a daily rate. They actually recommended that we check out Sprint. I really didn’t want to check out Sprint, because I’ve never heard anyone say they enjoy their phone plan with them. Then again, I didn’t know anyone living internationally!

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Sprint offered to pay off our contracts with Verizon and allowed us to text and FaceTime from anywhere in the world at no extra cost. It was also way cheaper than what we were paying with Verizon. Taylor and I were able to update our iPhones, plus they gave us an additional 2 phones that we now have as backups. We’ve been living in China for 4 months now and have traveled to multiple countries, and haven’t had any issues with our Sprint phones. We can still text free of charge (on both ends) and we can FaceTime with anyone in the world. If we make a normal phone call it is 10 cents a minute, so not a big deal. However, all FaceTime calls are completely free. Taylor and I have an app called WeChat, which allows us to make phone calls to each other within China if needed.

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After visiting America for a few weeks back in August, I’ve had the chance to see how my Sprint phone preforms there as well. To be honest, it works much better abroad. I didn’t get great signal and almost all of my calls were dropped. The internet was slow as well, unless I was connected to the wifi. Our sprint phones serve their purpose and work great while we’re traveling. We spend more time in other countries these days so it’s perfect for our needs. Whenever it’s time for us to move back to the states, I’m not sure if we’ll keep our sprint plans. However, it’s super cheap so I can’t complain too much! 

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For those of you asking, yes you can text and FaceTime call us free of charge! We may be in another country, but we’re easily accessible! The only difference is the time! 🙂 I hope this helps some of y’all if you’re thinking about changing phone plans or if you’re moving internationally anytime soon! xoxo

A Night in Hong Kong!

Last weekend, Taylor and I completed our second visa run to Hong Kong! I went into a lot more detail about what a “visa run” is and why we need to take them in the first Hong Kong post I wrote! You can read that HERE.

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The two of us headed to the Nanjing airport on Monday afternoon, and landed in Hong Kong around 5pm. We took a taxi immediately to our hotel, The Rosedale, and dropped off our luggage before heading to dinner. We were starving and craving Outback Steakhouse! The only time we can eat here is when we’re visiting Hong Kong. We would normally never eat at a chain restaurant while traveling, but when you live in China, you take any sliver of home you can get. ❤

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After a long day of traveling, we headed straight to bed and rested for an early morning of exploration! Taylor’s company only pays for a one night (two day) stay out of the country when we need to take our visa runs, so we squeeze everything we can into that time! We woke up bright and early, walked to Starbucks for coffee, then took the hotel bus downtown.

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We spent the entire day walking along the harbor, flying the drone, and shopping (Christmas is right around the corner)!

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When we were ready for lunch, we returned to White Beard’s Fish n Chips across the harbor. We ate here last time and loved it so much! Taylor ordered their lemon garlic fish and I got their fish bites!

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We always love traveling to Hong Kong, even if it’s just for one night. The weather is always perfect, there’s a huge western influence, and there’s so much beauty! We’ve only been twice now, but there’s still so much we want to see and do here! We can’t wait to return.

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On another note, WE RETURN TO AMERICA this week!! We’re both ecstatic, and can’t wait to see all our friends and family! Thank’s for reading! xoxo

The Great Wall of China | Beijing Part 2

If you missed my last post, it was all about our first day exploring Beijing! You can read it HERE. Taylor and I had such a fun and relaxing day wondering around the city, but we were even more excited for our second day. Like most people, we have been dreaming about seeing the Great Wall of China because it’s one of the 7 Wonders of the World. We knew we were going to see it during our time living in China, but we strategically planned to go during the month of October. As I mentioned in my last post, it’s less crowded, cooler, and the leaves would be transitioning.

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If you haven’t figured it out by now, Taylor is no average guy when it comes to traveling. He always takes the path less traveled and strives to make his experiences the most unique. The Great Wall of China was no exception. His boss whom we had lunch with the previous day made sure we had the most authentic and wonderful experience. He’s been living here for over 10 years, so he was very helpful!!

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At 7:30am, he sent a driver to come pick us up at our hotel for the day. If you’re planning on traveling to Beijing to see the Great Wall, please remember that the most popular sections of The Wall will take 40 minutes to an hour to get there. There are various ways you can get there:

  1. The Bus – Probably the cheapest route.
  2. A tour group – make sure you do your research on this one. I’ve heard people talk about how they were scammed by doing this.
  3. Hiring a Car – I’m not sure how much this costs, but I’m sure it’s not cheap.

Most tourists visit a part of the wall that has been rebuilt by the government for tourism and accessibility. There’s nothing wrong with this, but we didn’t want hundreds of people around and we wanted to see something real and historical. We were taken to Huang Hua and it took 2 hours to get there by car. Once we arrived, our driver dropped us off in a very small farming town. We paid 5RMB each to walk through a woman’s restaurant, which lead to a small opening in the wall. The view from that first lookout was amazing!

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We hired a photographer named Tony to join us because we really wanted to enjoy the moment and take our Christmas card photos. Tony was a friend of a friend, and he’s currently earning his bachelor’s degree in Beijing. He was absolutely phenomenal and a joy to have along. If you’re in the Beijing area and want a photographer, I’d highly recommend him. I know we’ll be asking him to take photos again in the future!! He was such a sweet guy.

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Walking along The Wall was a lot more difficult than we were expecting. Some parts were straight up! It didn’t help that we were dressed for photos. 🙂 We hiked to the next town, which took close to two hours with all the pictures. We crossed paths with one other person during the whole time. This is unheard of with The Great Wall. Even Tony was astonished and said he’d never return to the popular sections again. He told us that he visited during the summer and he could barley walk or take photos with all the people.

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We paid another 10RMB each to exit the wall through someone’s orchard. Our driver was waiting there ready to take us home. I was so exhausted after all the hiking and photos that I fell asleep the whole two hours back into the city. We were dropped off in Sanlitun, and headed straight for lunch.

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We ate at another favorite, Home Plate BBQ! As you can imagine, we were starving! Taylor ordered the fried buffalo chicken sandwich and I ordered their classic pulled pork sandwich. We also split an order of bbq pulled pork fries! Yum!

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After scarfing down our food, we went back to The Bookworm to look at our photos and reflect on our Great Wall experience. Tony took all the photos on my memory card so we’d have access to them immediately. We were also able to edit them however we wanted!

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Before heading to the train station, we walked around one of the markets. To be honest, we didn’t really enjoy it. The stuff there was almost “too nice” and the sellers weren’t willing to negotiate much. Nothing stood out either. We prefer the markets in Shanghai much more. We got to the train station a few hours before our train because we were meeting our wonderful friend Jenny!! We met her years ago when we visited China the first time, and we finally had the chance to reconnect because she lives in Beijing now. We got Starbucks and caught up on life. I’m so thankful for a friend like Jenny!

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Side note: if you’re a Starbucks mug collector like me, the Beijing train station has almost every Chinese city you can imagine!! Don’t stress if you can’t find one out and about.

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I still can’t believe we hiked The Great Wall of China! Everything about our experience was perfect, and I can’t wait to take family and friends there in the future. ❤

We’ll be traveling to Hong Kong for our second visa run tomorrow. Make sure you’re subscribed for all the details. Thank’s for reading!! xoxo