1- What's Wuxi like?
This is a pretty general question, but our answer is usually along the lines of "it's a newer, smaller (million people) city about 2.5 hours north west of Shanghai. There is a lake, called Lake Taihu in our city, but it's not the type of lake anyone from the US would every swim or fish in. Like any city in China, we deal with pollution on a regular basis. Although new, Wuxi is quite dirty and offers fewer western familiarities than a bigger city such as BeiJing or Shanghai would. There is a ton of new construction going up, so new shopping malls and apartments open every month. The big news on the block is that we finally got a mall with Claire's (you got that right-Claire's accesories= big news!) Wuxi's hitting the big time now (:
2- What do you eat?
We cook most of our own food. And by "cook our own food", I'm talking from scratch. We eat very similar to how we would eat back in CA, but with fewer selections. We eat much less meat --not because it isn't available, but because it just isn't that good here. The beef we do buy is imported from Australia and quite spendy. We have bought live chickens a couple of times and been disappointed. The chickens sold at the local market are often old and straight out of someone's yard. The result is stringy, chewy meat. Our most popular cuisine here happens to be Mexican. We make our own mock refried beans and tortillas and are thankful cilantro and onions are available here. We do miss ourselves some CA avocados though!
When we go out to eat, we have two local favorites. One is a Muslim noodle house which make fresh noodles in the front of the store, and add them to broth with veggies like bok choy. The other is jiaozi, which are usually pork mixed with cabbage, celery or mushrooms folded inside little wonton wrappers and then boiled. We also like their spicy green beans.
Wuxi has Western fast food joints. Subway, Mcdonalds, Burger King, Papa John's, Pizza Hut, Dairy Queen, KFC and Dunkin Donuts are the ones that come to mind. I'm embarrassed to admit that although we don't frequent ANY of those restaraunts in the US, we've been to them all a time or two here. What can I say? Our kid is a chicken nugget fiend.
3-Where do you buy food?
We make an effort to eat a lot of produce, which I purchase at the local produce market about half a mile away. They sell seasonal fruit and vegetables, as well as spices & meats (both alive and dead) --but as I mentioned above we buy our meat elsewhere. The produce market is not ventilated well, and there is no refrigeration. Just imagine the stench of the meat section during summer....it's bad. As for sanitizing our haul? I have found that an hour long soak in a vinegar water or iodine water solution works well. None of us have gotten sick from eating fresh produce yet.
There are two supermarkets we frequent. One is French owned Auchan supermarket, which has the only decent cheese in town. And by decent cheese, I mean they carry more than just processed cheese slices or tubes o' cheese products.The selection still isn't anything to get excited about. They also carry some tortilla chips that we like, as well as fresh baguette bread.
Our main shopping is done at MeTRO, which reminds me of a Chinese version of Food4Less. It's a warehouse style market with forklifts dodging shopping carts during most shopping excursions. We buy most of our grazing food (nuts, popcorn, crackers) here, as well as UHT milk, butter, Australian beef, tortillas and our household items like toilet paper and baby wipes here.
4- How do you figure out where to find things?
Word of mouth. Generous fellow expats. My husband's assistant. Whenever one of my friends or I run across something we think the others would like or have mentioned needing, we text one another and buy it for the person-because things are often here one day, gone the next. When I'm out on my own, I use google translate a lot to ask questions or give directions. I managed to find neosporin and iodine on my own at the pharmacy a few weeks ago and high fived myself all the way home. I also use a website called taobao.com for online shopping. The best way to describe it is a cross between amazon and eBay. I need my husband's assistant to help with purchases and some translation, but she is a really good sport about it. I've bought everything from graham crackers to butt paste to toys from taobao sellers.
5- Know any Chinese yet?
Sadly, very little. Neither NZ or I have put forth the effort to take lessons or do an online program. It's such a complex language. I know a handful of words and phrases and my numbers. Knowing your numbers here is key to survival.
6- Does Sal speak Mandarin?
We think he understands some words. Our ayi speaks to him every afternoon. The other day I realized he was counting from 1-10 in mandarin with her! He also attempts to say zaijian (bye) when prompted.
7- What do you do during the day?
The driver usually picks NZ up for work between 7or 8 each day. Sal and I get dressed by 9:00 and head out for some sort of activity a few days each week. We are members of the Wuxi International club, which is growing in size each month. Every month WIC hosts a luncheon, a coffee morning, play groups, BBQ's etc to partake in.
Here's our usual week: On Mondays we meet a group of expats in our complex and walk to the local Starbucks for the morning.
Tuesdays and Thursdays we usually walk to the vegetable market and then go home to Skype with my sister. Wednesday mornings I try to use the driver to take us grocery shopping or on errands, and on Fridays we often spend the morning at a friend's house playing in her basement. Lunchtime is between 11:45 and 12:15 followed by a 2-3 hour nap.
Our ayi arrives at the end of naptime and works til 5:00p while Sal and I do our best to stay out of her way. Lately we have been taking afternoon walks around the complex, or playing at the playground. NZ usually arrives home around 6:15 for dinner, then it's bath time and bed for the boy while we stay up later watching Netflix shows.
8- What's the weather like?
December until the end of March is fuh-reezing cold. Usually just gray skies and rain, but occasionally we get snow.
The only drawback during these months is the higher pollution levels. Puts a damper on outside play some days.
By the end of June, and for the entire July and August and beginning of September it is stifling hot and humid. Some days it is so hot that we don't even leave the house. Mid September through November are the best months. Lower pollution levels, clear skies and nice temperate weather. If anyone ever wants to visit us, these are the months to do it.
9- What does your apartment look like?
We live in a gated complex along with many other Chinese and expats. By China standards, we live very well. Our apartment has a balcony and is located on the 25th floor of a 27 story building. Minus the garage, it's the same square footage of our house in California. We have three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a small kitchen, a large pantry (even by US standards), a laundry room and a nice sized living room with hardwood floors and tile.
The apartment came furnished and we are the first inhabitants, so everything is "new". The furnishings are cheap and Chinese, and everything we have added to the mix has been courtesy of IKEA. Look around any expat home and you're sure to see an IKEA expedit or two. We all shop there.
Our refrigerator is a side by side, just like we might have at home, but we do not have a full size oven or a dishwasher. We have a two burner gas range and a countertop toaster oven that we work magic with. My washing machine doubles as a dryer--most people in China don't use electric dryers, but instead hang clothes to dry. I'm thankful for imported dryer sheets and my dryer to keep shirts, socks and underwear soft. Too bad a full wash and dry load takes four hours!
10- What do you miss the most?
Family, friends, our neighbors, our house, our yard, driving cars, temperate weather, blue skies, the beach, sewing, fabric stores, softball league, authentic Mexican food, avocados, Target, diet sodas, understanding the language, common courtesy, the beach...oh wait, did I already say that? Uhm yeah, we miss the beach. And family. And friends.
Got more questions? Ask away!