Because she explains her travel journey so beautifully, I will give you her background in her own words: “I am a 25 yr old Jamaican American from Massachusetts. I graduated from Howard University with a degree in TV Production (which I will use eventually). I’ve always loved working with children and had an itch to travel. That somehow segued itself into teaching children English in China. It was total divine intervention as I knew I wanted to experience living abroad and making a difference but didn’t quite know how to do it or where.
I prayed about it and doors opened. I looked into a lot of programs, including Peace Corps. A friend, Tashari and I randomly reconnected through Skype and she was in China teaching already- we talked about it a little. I kept shopping around for options and then one day I thought maybe I should check out where she is. She showed me where to apply; I did it and hopped on the plane within 2 months. I have now lived in China for a year and almost 2 months now.
I was in Jinan, Shandong Province (a small place…kind of like the Idaho of China), for a year teaching English to both children and adults. Then I went home for a two month vacation. I hopped from state to state visiting friends and family. It was so weird being home! I have grown accustomed to not understanding people when they speak so understanding everyone around me was mind blowing! After my two month vacation, I came back to China but this time, I’m living and working in Shanghai.
Being abroad has been an invaluable experience, I have grown so much. I have rediscovered a love of painting, climbed mountains, camped in a desert- during a sandstorm, made so many new friends, ate frog once, went natural/gave up on being natural, sang karaoke, learned to use chopsticks and am learning a new language. I’m also more patient, quieter and calmer than I used to be back home.”
Now, On to the interview!
Imported Chocolate: Ni Hao, Shirice!
Shirice: Ni Hao!!
Imported Chocolate: So sorry I was running late!
Shirice: It’s fine.
Imported Chocolate: Thanks so much for having a virtual cup of hot chocolate with me!
Shirice: It’s my pleasure!
Imported Chocolate: How do you say hot chocolate in Chinese, anyway?
Shirice: Ha. Ha. Ha!! My mandarin is still basic!! Ummm. Well, chocolate is pronounced chocolee and hot is pronounced ruh. So maybe if you put that together, someone will understand you.
Imported Chocolate: So, ruh chocolee? That’s pretty cool. How is learning mandarin for you? I’ve always heard Chinese is one of the hardest languages to learn for an English speaker because it’s not apart of the romance languages like English is.
Shirice: That is sooo true! It’s definitely not Latin based. A lot of it is just putting sounds together and using specific tones. Even learning to read and write is different. In English we learn to read by sounding words out but in China you learn to read characters by memorizing them. So with my students, when I teach them new words, they memorize the letters in it and don’t understand what I mean when I tell them to sound out the letters.
Imported Chocolate: Wow. I know my head would explode. I have a hard time learning languages so that seems like it would be hard for me, but then again, the mind is an amazing thing!
Shirice: I’m learning a lot though. I learn from hearing people speak to each other, especially when observing my students. I also have Rosetta Stone and Chinese roommates to help guide me.
Imported Chocolate: That is wonderful! So what was it like when you arrived in china for the first time and did not speak the language? I always wondered what it would be like moving to China and trying to read signs with Chinese characters.
Shirice: I just ran and asked my roomie if I was right about how to say hot chocolate and I was!
Imported Chocolate: Oh Yay!
Shirice: It was like entering a twilight zone. Everyone was speaking and I had no idea what was going on! To be honest, I still don’t always understand, but it’s way better than before. Now I can pick up a few words here and there and figure it out. I still can’t read more than four characters though! So I just ask people to read it to me.
Imported Chocolate: Do you have any funny moments about communicating with the locals to share? I know there has to be some! Lol!
Shirice: Ha!! I have PLENTY! Everyday I go through it. Since my mandarin is limited and well, I use charades to convey the message often.
Imported Chocolate: What is the funniest story you can think of?
Shirice: When I first came to China, I didn’t know how to use chopsticks. I tried so hard but it just wasn’t working. We used to get our lunch from an alley that’s lined with food carts. I went around from one cart to the next asking for a spoon and motioning feeding myself with a spoon. Everyone laughed but eventually someone emerged with a little spoon for me! After living here, I’m now a pro when it comes to charades!
Imported Chocolate: Lol! I hate chopsticks! I can’t use them worth a damn! I would probably starve. Where you ever on the verge of starvation because of chopsticks? Or did you always find a spoon? Lol!
Shirice: Lol! No I definitely had times when I couldn’t find one. I pretty much lived off dumplings for a while since it was the only thing I could pick up. But I’m a food lover so I learned how to hold chopsticks!
Imported Chocolate: Ha! Ha! I here that! Do they use chopsticks for rice too?
Shirice: Yes! But the rice here is cooked with a little more water so it sticks to chopsticks easier. They eat everything with chopsticks, even peanuts.
Imported Chocolate: Aaaah, OK. Lol! Wow. How the hell do you eat a peanut with a chopstick? Now that is some Skills!
Shirice: Yes it is!!! It takes time, maybe if you find yourself here one day I’ll show you.
Imported Chocolate: Well, I know I want to visit China one day, but it would take you a year to teach me how to use those damn things! Lol! How much is the plane ticket there, anyway?
Shirice: You’re hilarious! It’s about $1,000 to $1,300 roundtrip
Imported Chocolate: Sounds about right. What’s the cost of living?
Shirice: Pretty cheap, but it also depends on which part you’re in. The conversion is 6.3 USD to 1 RMB. So basically 100 USD is 630 RMB. Chinese food (a full meal with meat, rice and veggies) is about 5 USD while western food here is about 10-15 USD depending on what you get. Transportation by taxi and subway is a quarter of what it could cost in the states. Clothes and stuff sometimes cost more than it would in the states, though, because the sizes here are usually smaller than typical western sizes. In order to get something that fits our bodies, we sometimes have to shop in western stores which of course cost more. I pay about 100 USD for jeans here, but back home I used to pay $30 to $40.
Imported Chocolate: Girl! I know I would never be able to get my butt to fit in a pair of jeans in China and I don’t even have a huge butt! LOL!
Shirice: LOL! Exactly! So you’d have to go to an American or European store like me and pay more.
Imported Chocolate: But that would be torture for me. I consider myself the frugal fashionista. I always get expensive jeans for half the price so paying $100 for a pair of jeans would give me a heart attack. Lol!
Imported Chocolate: Going back to food, what is considered traditional Chinese food there and what is considered Western? Is Western food like the Chinese food they cook for us here in the states? Because we all know that’s not real Chinese food.
Shirice: LOL! I’m glad you know it’s not real Chinese food. A lot of people think it is. Traditional Chinese food usually consists of dumplings, noodles, soups, rice, eggplant, pork, eggs and cabbage. It’s often fried, sometimes steamed. The food here tends to be oily but good. Western food is McDonalds, Subway, Starbucks, Pizza and Pasta.
Imported Chocolate: I’m getting soooo hungry!
Shirice: There are a lot of burger places here! I’ve had some great Western food here. There’s a bar my friends took me to called Blue Frog. I had the Mexican burger and I’m telling you it’s the best burger I’ve ever had!!
Imported Chocolate: Yuuuuuum! What’s your favorite Chinese dish?
Shirice: I love Mu Shi Ro. It’s a mixture of potatoes, eggs, pork and mushroom stir fried, and you can have it with rice. I ate it a lot in Jinan and there was this sweet and sour pork called Tong Su Li Gi.
Imported Chocolate: It sounds sooo good!
Shirice: I also love Bok Choy and Chinese broccoli, it’s steamed and they put oyster sauce on it. It’s delicious. At first when I came I wasn’t too fond of the food because it was so different, but I found dishes I like and also, of course, your palette adjusts to some spices/flavors which makes it even easier. I also eat a lot of different foods- Japanese, Korean, Italian, American and Vietnamese. Sometimes I cook for myself too.
Imported Chocolate: Awesome! Any other dish that’s a must try?
Shirice: You must have dumplings—steamed or fried; they’re delicious. I also like the pork and rice dragon dumplings served during the dragon boat festival. I like cabbage and pork dumplings and also the plain spinach ones are good too! The ice cream here is to die for!
Imported Chocolate: Ha! I was just about to ask you about dessert too! What are some good ice cream flavors to try?
Shirice: Green tea, taro root, chocolate, coffee even vanilla is amazing here. I’m not even a coffee drinker but I love the coffee ice cream here. I had some today after work. It’s by a brand called magnum. There are some funky flavors here that I’ve steered clear of, though— such as green pea and carrot.
Imported Chocolate: I’ve tried green tea ice cream before and it was the bomb dot com. Lol! Eeeew, green pea ice cream?
Shirice: Lol! My sentiments exactly.
Imported Chocolate: Going back to the cost of living, how much does the average apartment rent for?
Shirice: 2,500-4,000 RMB a month but you have to pay 3 months at a time every time.
Imported Chocolate: Wait, you have to pay three months rent every month?
Shirice: I have to pay 3 months rent every 3 months. There’s no option to pay one month at a time. Sometimes people can negotiate two months but there’s no landlord that allows one month.
Imported Chocolate: Hmmm, so I guess you save for three months and then pay? Like you keep setting aside your rent expense for three months until it’s time to pay?
Shirice: Yup. Exactly.
Imported Chocolate: I guess that’s not too bad.
Shirice: It’s a little weird at first because you feel like you have all that extra money but its doable, just takes adjusting to.
Imported Chocolate: So, converted into USD, rent for an average apartment translates into around $400-$600 USD multiplied by 3 lol!
Imported Chocolate: That’s not bad at all! That’s waaaaay cheaper than rent in NY!
Shirice: wwwaaaayyyyyyy cheaper! And the apartment I live in now, I pay 3,500 RMB and its huge! In NY, I’d have a box!
Imported Chocolate: That’s what we like to hear over at Imported Chocolate! Lol! Is it hard to find an apartment to rent?
Shirice: It does take a bit of time, like apt hunting does anywhere. It took me three weeks to find mine. I searched almost daily, saw about thirteen or so places. I viewed plenty of ads online and also hit the pavement with multiple realtors.
Imported Chocolate: Yup, that’s about how long it takes to find an apartment anywhere.
Shirice: I did run into a couple snafus.
Imported Chocolate: What happened?
Shirice: There were a couple of landlords that tried to jack up the price when they saw I was a foreigner.
Imported Chocolate: Ughh! I hate that! The gringo price! I guess it wouldn’t be called gringo in China. I should say the westerner price.
Shirice: Once another one didn’t want to rent to me because when we were going over the lease- he said I asked too many questions and also he was annoyed that he couldn’t speak to me directly and had to speak through my realtor (my realtor spoke English, the landlord didn’t). Yea Wei Guo Ren (foreigner). Or Lao wei.
Imported Chocolate: Sounds like he was up to no good! Ok, so it’s the Lao Wei price.
Shirice: In China, its sometimes frowned upon to ask a lot of questions. It’s usually more acceptable to go with the flow. We as Americans are always taught to question things but it’s the opposite here.
Imported Chocolate: Hmmm. I see
Shirice: I do wonder about him, though, because he did tell me he would pay my utilities and then hand me the receipt afterward so I can give him back the cash. I told him, “No thanks because it’s obvious I can’t read Chinese and, well, I wouldn’t know what the receipt was really saying.” It worked out better that I didn’t take that apartment anyway, though. It was quirky. The one I ended up with is much better and everyone here speaks English!
Imported Chocolate: Everything happens for a reason. I am glad it all worked out for you :0).
Shirice: No one had a problem with me questioning the lease either. Thanks.
Imported Chocolate: As for public transportation, is Taxi the only way to get around?
Shirice: Nope! You can ride the metro (train) anywhere. It’s not 24 hours like in New York, though. It stops at 10:30/11:00pm. Then you have to depend on taxis. During the day, the taxi meter rate starts at 14RMB ($2.24 USD) and at night 18RMB ($2.88).
Imported Chocolate: Oh cool! China has a train! How much is the fare?
Shirice: The train fare is generally 4RMB each way ($0.64).
Imported Chocolate: Nice. I probably should have asked you this in the beginning but I like going with the flow of the conversation. How long have you lived in China?
Shirice: I have lived in China for a year and 2 months. I lived in Jinan, Shandong Province for 1 year and now Shanghai for 2 months. I went home once. I visited family and friends for 2 months then came back.
Imported Chocolate: What’s it like living as an African American woman in China?
Shirice: It is….interesting. It’s an adventure. You are considered exotic—beautiful to some, confusing to others. I have had a smorgasbord of reactions from people.
Imported Chocolate: Wow! Lol @ the “confusing to others” part. O_O.
Shirice: Some people have been downright rude and nasty. I have had people grab my hair, touch my skin, poke my butt. Ask me why I look the way I do.
Imported Chocolate: OH HELLL NOOO! Those are fighting words! What!?
Shirice: I have also had people tell me I’m absolutely beautiful and that they love my hair/skin/eyes.
Imported Chocolate: Well now that sounds better! I don’t liked to be touched by strangers at all! That is a huge violation to me.
Shirice: Yes, Jen. I have had my moments when I wanted to cut somebody! Lol! But you have to reel that in and keep it moving. Find ways to deal. I hate being touched by strangers as well but sometimes that’s an uphill battle in China. There is no concept of personal space at all.
Imported Chocolate: Uh oh! That would be a problem for me. I’m an introvert so it doesn’t take much for my personal space to feel violated. But hey, travel is all about rolling with the punches.
Shirice: It’s not too bad in Shanghai, though. People here are very friendly and knowledgeable when it comes to us foreigners—not so much in Jinan.
Imported Chocolate: I would try to work it out! Lol!
Shirice: Exactly! Gotta roll with it! You also get stared at a lot as a black person here. It’s unavoidable. People are always watching.
Imported Chocolate: Yeah. I am used to the stare thing. I lived in Buenos Aires and all they did was stare. So what is dating like there, then? I’ve always wondered this.
Shirice: Ha! I knew this question was coming. Dating is fun! I used to be one of those girls all about black love, wasn’t trying to be with a guy who wasn’t black. Now, I could care less. I’ve learned that handsome, funny, and smart men come in all shades.
Imported Chocolate: YES! Perfect way of thinking! Here at Imported Chocolate we’re all about love in different shades! No need to limit ourselves, right ladies!?
Shirice: Yyyyeeessss!!!! So right!
Imported Chocolate: Now hair. You knew this one was coming too! Lol! What’s the deal with getting black hair done in China?
Shirice: Lol! Yes. I did. OK, so there is a salon in Beijing owned by an African couple. They do everything! I don’t, however, always have the time to just fly to Beijing for my hair. So the other option is to get a university student to hook it up with some braids there are plenty of students here from Africa.
Imported Chocolate: Thanks! It’s good to know about both options! What’s the name of the salon in Beijing?
Shirice: I also have my family send me shampoo and conditioners from home. I love the Shea Moisture brand products. I wash and deep condition my hair all the time and just pin curl it, but when it gets so hot I just put it in a bun. The salon is Paulma. You can find them at www.paulmasalon.com.
Imported Chocolate: Thanks! Now art, I heard the art scene in Shanghai is pretty big. Where are some places you recommend to go to see art in Shanghai?
Shirice: I haven’t gone to see as much as I’d like yet. I’ve been working a lot but I’m going to get on it soon. I have been to the Shanghai Art Museum and it’s awesome! Sometimes there are sculptures on display in People’s Square (it’s a park).
Imported Chocolate: There are a lot of private galleries in Shanghai too, no?
Shirice: I’m sure there are but I haven’t gone as yet.
Imported Chocolate: What site seeing activities can you recommend that are not too touristy?
Shirice: Touristy- Bund, Pearl TV Tower, Nanjing Road, Peoples Square. Not too touristy-Xintiandi (food,bars,clubs), French Concession (food/bars,clubs), Shanghai Grand Theatre Gallery, Cotton Club (jazz), Xujiahui (shopping), Da Da (bar), Malone’s (bar), Perrys (bar) Huangpu River Cruise is also touristy.
Imported Chocolate: The Cotton Club stands out on my radar! Lol!
Shirice: There’s also Brown Sugar which does Salsa nights. Yuyuan gardens- touristy but fun.
Imported Chocolate: Oh snap! Brown Sugar! I swear it seems like no matter where you go there is always a club or lounge called Brown Sugar! LOL!
Shirice: Lol! There’s also Tianzifang— Art Street KTV is a must! It’s karaoke at its best!
Imported Chocolate: Wow, China sounds more fun than I thought!
Shirice: You get to rent rooms with your friends, buy drinks and snacks and sing and dance your heart out in your private room all night.
Imported Chocolate: Nice. Sounds soooo fun! What are some good day trips to take around China?
Shirice: Good day trips…I’d say to check out the art scene in Beijing, check out the river cruise here in Shanghai, or even climb thousand Buddha Mountains in Jinan. I’d def say to never enter a tea house- they will rip you off.
Imported Chocolate: What happens in a tea house?
Shirice: There are also beautiful temples to see In the tea house- they give you a tasting kind of like a wine tasting where you sample various teas. You sniff and swirl and everything, just like wine. It’s believed that each tea has a different health benefit. A tea connoisseur will boil different leaves in different pots, tell you stories and pour it for you at the end they present you with the most ridiculous bill for some damn tea! Don’t do it to yourself! They often prey on us poor foreigners by sending out young people who speak English to touristy spots. They greet you and are so kind then they ask for English lessons, offer to have tea with you and hang out but are really luring you into a scam
Imported Chocolate: Lol! Wow! Thanks for the warning.
Shirice: I just realized I never mentioned the Great Wall, check it out if you ever come here. It’s very touristy but you may like it. And you’re very welcome.
Imported Chocolate: Describe Chinese culture in 5 words. Lol
Shirice: 5? Lol. Oh, god. Hold up….ummm. Unique: ancient with a twist of modern. You’ll never get this anywhere else In China every day is an adventure
Imported Chocolate: Aaaaw! That was perfect! :0)
Shirice: Thanks! I tried!
Imported Chocolate: OK, Last but not least, what advice would give women of color who are still holding on to their fear of travel with a death grip? Lol.
Shirice: Lol! JUST DO IT!!! I’m so serious. Its one of those things every woman must do. Just buy the ticket already, you have nothing to lose. I have grown so much in the past year and have had so much fun- I can’t trade that for anything. Yes it can be challenging at times but that’s all a part of the experience, roll with it. It’s worth it.
Imported Chocolate: Awesome advice! And inspiring too! Any thing else you would like to share before we go?
Shirice: Two things- I’d like to mention my cousin Monique and my friend Tashari who advised me about traveling to Asia and helped me make the move. I’d also like to reiterate to those who are afraid to do it, just do it. You will make new friends, you will have new hairdressers, and new jobs…whatever is holding you back- ignore it and go—new lovers too ;).
And thank you to my mom and bro for sending me care packages. Those boxes mean so much to me. They pack all types of things in them from cookies to hair products.
Imported Chocolate: LOOOVE IT!!!!! Thanks so much for joining us Shirice! This was fun!!!!
Shirice: Thanks for having me! I enjoyed it as well.
Imported Chocolate: How do you say bye in Chinese?
Shirice: Dzie Tsien!
Imported Chocolate: Ok. Dzie Tsien!!!! :0)