Our First Week Living in China

Welcome to Guangzhou, China!
Welcome to Guangzhou, China!

Well we are here. Sitting in our 6th floor apartment, listening to the Chinese aerobics instructor in the nearby park shouting out different exercises (we think) on the microphone and hearing music pumping in the background.  Yes, we can hear this from our apartment.  But that’s ok.  Living in China was always a part of our original plan, since we left Atlanta in August.

China is NOT Like Southeast Asia

Now that we are actually living in China, it’s a bit surreal. We are enjoying it here, but we were not expecting such a big cultural difference from what we had experienced in other parts of southeast Asia, such as Thailand. There is a HUGE difference.  Luckily, we have already made good friends and have a couple teachers from my new school helping us get situated in our new home.

For example, getting a bank account for my new job or even getting a SIM card for my cell phone was crazy.  And without knowing Chinese, it would be impossible to accomplish.  However, having a local colleague from my school help out as a translator has been a lifesaver!

Opening a bank account in China was only a 4 hour process...with an interpreter!
Opening a bank account in China was only a 4 hour process…with an interpreter!

Personally, we felt like Thailand was much easier to navigate. We could tell the difference as soon as we left the airport.  Just getting on the right bus was a little bit of a challenge. In Thailand, we had the luxury of some things being in English, at least in more touristy areas.  However, almost nothing is in English here in China.  And unfortunately, staring at a sign with Chinese characters does absolutely nothing to help us.

Here is the bus schedule and these are the stations that it stops at. Helpful, yes.
Here is the bus schedule and these are the stations that it stops at. I could stare all day, and it would still mean nothing to me.

Our Apartment in Guangzhou, China

Upon arrival, we were shown to our apartment in Guangzhou. We lucked out because this apartment was already leased by the old teacher that I was taking over for.  Since she left early to have a baby, there were a couple months still left on the contract.  This made for an easier transition because we didn’t have to look for an apartment right away.  We can stay here for a couple months, or longer if we like it.  Or if we find a better place elsewhere, we can move later.

Our new apartment building in Guangzhou - a big difference from Thailand!
Our new apartment building in Guangzhou – a big difference from Thailand!

However, we immediately loved many things about the apartment…especially the location. It is bigger than our old place in Chiang Mai, Thailand (which was a studio).  With 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms, it is actually bigger than what we really need here.  There are also amenities in our complex, including tennis courts, a swimming pool, a spa downstairs, and a ping pong room (although we’ve yet to check that out!).

The apartment is in the Panyu district, just south of the main downtown area of Guangzhou.  Even though we are not in downtown Guangzhou, we are close.  We can take a bus and the subway / metro into the city quite easily…and it’s cheap!

Christmas in our Guangzhou apartment!
Christmas in our Guangzhou apartment (great, but need to fix that curtain!)

The main reason we are in Panyu is because this is where my job is located.  The school I am teaching at is literally a 5 minute walk around the corner from our apartment building.  By far the best commute I’ve ever had!  Plus, it is right across he street from a huge mall and many other shops, restaurants, coffee shops, and grocery stores.  We’ve never had it so convenient!

My New Job Includes Playing Santa Claus, and Gym Classes on the Wii

My first day of work is one that I will always remember. Gigi, my headmaster, asked if I would dress up and play Santa as we deliver gifts to the students at my school. I wanted to ride around and see our new neighborhood anyway, and to do it dressed as Santa was something I just couldn’t pass on. Honestly one of the most memorable experiences ever.  Check out our full story about my experience dressing up as Santa and delivering gifts in China!

Teacher Josh!
Teacher Josh!

During my first day of actual teaching at my new school, First Leap, I was welcomed with open arms by my fellow instructors and my new students. I honestly love my new job and the school. The kids really enjoy the foreign teachers, and as a foreign teacher, we get to have the most fun parts of teaching English.

No joke, one of my classes is called virtual P.E. – where we get to play games on the Wii!  I also get to teach fun subjects like World Cultures, Music, Art, and Science while the kids are learning English.  So much fun!!!

My students showing off their artwork
My students showing off their artwork

Spending Christmas With our Chinese Family!

Christmas was tough this year since we had to spend it away from our families.  But our new friends and family here in Guangzhou made it so much easier. Steven, (one of my co-workers), Wendy (Steven’s Chinese wife), my head master, Gigi and CJ (her husband), and a few other teachers from the school all met up for dinner on Christmas Eve. We had a great time getting to know each other a little bit better. We enjoyed lots of food and drink into the wee hours of Christmas morning!

Christmas Eve dinner in Guaungzhou, China
Christmas Eve dinner in Guaungzhou, China

On the evening of Christmas day, we were invited over the Wendy and Steven’s home for a home-cooked dinner with “The Grinch” movie playing in the background.  Gigi and CJ joined us and even roasted a chicken!  Then we exchanged gifts — which we weren’t expecting.  But it was so thoughtful of all of them to help us have a great Christmas here in China, and we will cherish those memories for years to come.

Christmas dinner in China
Christmas dinner in China

New Years, Peking Duck and Chinese Drinking Games!

To celebrate the New Year, our new friends took us downtown into Guangzhou for the festivities.  Unfortunately, it is very crowded here and authorities have had trouble controlling crowds in the past.  So we were denied entrance to the area surrounding the famous Canton Tower, near the stadium along the Pearl River, due to there being too many people.  However, we were able to walk around other parts of downtown taking photos of the lights and festivities, before ending up at a local pub / restaurant – where we celebrated until 4 am.

NYE China - Peanuts or Pretzels Travel Blog

We have also really enjoyed getting acquainted with Chinese traditions and food. This is where having Chinese friends has been hugely helpful!  Not only can they provide recommendations, but they can actually read the menu and provide some translation.  Our new friends have helped us order meals and introduced us to so famous great dishes, such as Peking Duck!

Wow - that's a lot of food! Lunch is Peking Duck, and about 10 other dishes!
Wow – that’s a lot of food! Lunch is Peking Duck, and about 10 other dishes!

They have also introduced us to different games, including drinking games.  We have learned that the Chinese people love drinking games, especially while out at a restaurant or a pub.  For us in the States, most people play these games at home, but here in China, you will see people playing them at the pub.  Since the two of us LOVE to play games, this is a welcome tradition!

Learning different Chinese drinking games!
Learning different Chinese drinking games!

CJ has introduced us to a few different games already, but he assures us that there are many more to learn. We can’t wait to learn them and share them around the world as we continue to travel and meet people along the way.

2015 Will Bring Work…But Lots of Travel!

China has been great to us so far, really making our first week here a good one.  Soon I will be heading to Beijing for 2 weeks of work training, and Liz (or should I say “Lizzie” because everyone here in China calls her that) will be starting her new teaching job in the next couple of days. So we will both be busy working soon. But there will still be plenty of time for travel fun!

In fact, February is when the Spring Festival is held (known as Chinese New Year to most of us in the States).  We will be getting plenty of time off work during the festival, where we plan to travel out into the countryside to explore.  We are really looking forward to seeing some of the beautiful villages and landscapes outside of the big city, especially during such an important holiday here in China.  And of course, we are looking forward to sharing it with all of you.

Best wishes for the new year!

Sightseeing in our new home of Guangzhou, China!
Sightseeing in our new home of Guangzhou, China!


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29 thoughts on “Our First Week Living in China”

  1. I’ve always wanted to visit China, but I’ve never thought of going urban – and it looks very interesting. Although, as you’ve said, I imagine the cultural shock to be crazy-big. Think I’m a bit of a cultural whimp – I got freaked out in Marrakech 🙂

    1. Thanks for the comment Claire! Yeah, we can’t wait to get out to explore the countryside more. We’ve been quite busy in town, so we haven’t ventured out far yet. While we are definitely looking forward to it, it’s probably best that we learn a bit more Chinese and get our bearings here in the city first. Unless you are on an organized tour, venturing into the countryside can be a real challenge with the language barrier. I think China will have to be one of those places where we don’t “wing it” too often — a bit of research in advance will go a long way in making the experience of exploring outside the cities more enjoyable.

      – Liz

  2. Sounds like an amazing experience! I was surprised how little English we found when we visited even in the big tourist cities. Good luck with the new jobs and city!

    1. Thanks for reading Elaine! Yes, we thought that maybe coming into a big, global city like Guangzhou (only a couple hours from Hong Kong) would be a bit easier with the language barrier. And true, it probably is much easier than what we will experience in the countryside — but we were still a bit surprised!

      – Liz

  3. Oh it is always so exciting, yet intimidating moving to a new country. It all looks wonderful and I love that you got to be Santa too. I have always been a little aprehensive about a visit to China as it looks so overwhelming. I bet it is very different from SEA. Can’t wait to see how you do.

    1. Thanks for the comment Heidi! Yes, we knew it would be a challenge, but honestly, it was more difficult than we anticipated. Not in a bad way. But we did have to work a lot harder and do a better job at planning things out, and researching how to say things in Chinese (or at least pulling up a translation on our phone). I guess we were just spoiled in Thailand!

      Happy Travels!

      – Liz

  4. This sounds so exciting. What a great start to living in China. Your apartment looks great and so nice to have a group of people there who you can socialise with too. I agree that it’s much harder than SE Asia and hardly anything in English But what an experience! Happy travels 🙂

    1. Thanks so much for the comment Kate!

      Agree, having a small group of friends has already made it so wonderful here. Plus, having them help us out with the language, culture, and food has been the best. Loving it here so far!

      – Liz

    1. Thanks Francesca!

      I (Liz) couldn’t stop taking photos of Josh as Santa and the kids. It was too funny – they were so excited to see him. Definitely something neither of us will forget.

      Thanks for reading!

      – Liz

  5. So enjoyed reading your blog and catching up. You guys are living the dream and I am so happy for you! Enjoy each and every moment of the adventure! One day you will look back with such graditude that you were able to do this! Wow! Best of luck with you new new jobs in China. Take care and stay safe!

    1. Thank you so much Rhonda for reading, and for the kind words. It is definitely an experience that we won’t forget, and it’s even better that we can make the memories together. Every now and then we have a moment here where we’re like “holy crap, we live in China” and it seems a bit surreal. There have been challenges for sure, but overall, we couldn’t be happier with the choices that we’ve made and where we are now.

      Cheers & thanks for following!
      – Liz

  6. We’ve been wanting to plan a trip to Asia in the next couple of years but it’s hard to decide where to go. Thailand, China, Japan? Who knows? I guess it’ll depend on finances. I look forward to reading more about your time in China. Good luck with your new jobs! 🙂

    1. Thanks for the comment! It is definitely a tough choice. So many great places to see and very different cultures to experience. Happy travels!

      – Liz

    1. Hey you two – thanks for the comment! Yeah, life in Chiang Mai was SO easy & relaxed. It was wonderful down there, we certainly miss it sometimes. We learned quickly that life is all about the “food” here in China. Very different types of cuisine though. We’ve had some great experiences, and some not so good. I must say, we really enjoyed the “hot pot” kind of thing – with lots of veggies, meats, and spices in a huge pot with a side of rice. Spicy but awesome!

      Happy travels to you two!
      – Liz & Josh

    1. Thanks for reading Joseph! Yeah, so far it has been really awesome because we’ve gotten to know so many locals here in China who love sharing their culture with us. Very cool!

      – Liz

  7. Now Liz, was that food shock photo posed? Did it take a lot of tries to get it that perfect? 🙂 If all works out, maybe I can catch up with you somewhere on the other side of the world! Stay warm over there! -It’s cold here in NYC.


    1. haha – one shot, and I didn’t mean to make that face! But I couldn’t help it, the food kept coming and there was so much of it. It was really yummy, but I’ll admit that I didn’t know what some of it was.

      – Liz

  8. haha! i can so feel with you guys. My last time there i tried to change money at a normal bank, but forgot my passport (only had an id). At one point (some 30min later) they called the police (my taxi was still waiting in front of the door) to verify things…which was the point i decided to leave – without a cent changed!

  9. Just came across your blog, and I am going to be coming back! China sounds surreal. Actually, any place where one doesn’t speak the language sounds tough..You guys are really brave!

    1. Thanks Pragati for the comment. It has been a challenge, but now that we’ve been here for a few months, we are really starting to enjoy it! Even the quirks and not speaking the language very well — it has all grown on us so much. We definitely want to learn more of the language to be able to communicate, but overall the experience really has been great.

      Thanks for reading!


  10. I’m so happy you guys experience China as well. I lived there for nearly 3 years and I agree – it’s not like South-East Asia (AT ALL), but the food, in my opinion, is much better!

  11. David Mclaughlin

    Hi there Josh & Liz great to see you both “living on the edge”-being brave & adventurous. Happy for you both, you landed on your feet; tho the Santa thing must of been a hoot haha- right out of the comfort zone! I’very been following from time to time but hopefully will more regularly. Hope you’re still in China if I make there also. Take care , love you both

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