Turks and Their Rugs

Imagine a Sultan from your history classes, with the poufy clothes and that large headpiece, seated in a domed throne room. Amongst the huge marble pillars that hold up the chamber, just how many rugs and how many colors have you imagined rolled out along the floor and covering the walls? That elegance transcends the Ottoman Empire to daily life in Turkey, and there isn’t a single craft that Turks take more pride in than their rugs. Turkish apartments are adorned with rugs that have been passed down generations, and the quality of Turkish rugs is unmatched when it comes to the intricacy of their patterned weaves and the level of effort put into producing each one.

The modern day version

When I’d moved into my first apartment in Izmir, I’d needed to wait an extra day for the rugs to be properly cleaned and ready. While they weren’t the Hereke rugs that foreign leaders are given when they first visit Turkey, it’d still been worth the wait as I’d watched my landlord decorate the bare apartment with rugs of every shape and color. Over a year later, I’ve gotten lucky enough to tour one of the government subsidized rug Corps in Cappadocia, and to even buy one of my own! Well, my family had bought it, but a major and awkward part of the sales pitch had been that it would eventually become mine… morbid implications intended.

The finest

The Turkish rug industry is still very much a cottage industry in that rugs of all kinds are made in villages at the homes of families dedicated to the craft. These rugs make their way to major cities to be sold by either middle man, or what’s called a Corp (we’ll get to that later). Those middle men are the carpet sellers on the streets of downtown Istanbul who will try lead you to one of their shops. They line the corridors of the Grand Bazaar, approach you outside of whichever monument you’re near, and heckle you as you pass by their small shops in the tourist area of Sultanahmet. You can count on at least several approaching you every day, and don’t be surprised if they’re pushy as hell.

Death of a carpet salesman

When a carpet seller approaches you as you’re sightseeing, it’s all so obvious from the get-go that they’re only out to make a sale. They’ll try to break down your defensiveness with small talk or compliments, and some will even offer to give you a free tour of whichever museum or mosque you’re nearby. Expect them to chide you if you’re not being open enough to a casual conversation, because damn are they persistent. They’ll say or offer just about anything to eventually get you into one of their shops. Carpet sellers are essentially the used car salesmen of the rug industry, and with that comes lemons and suckers. It’s not that their rugs aren’t necessarily good, it’s just that that who knows what you’re actually buying, or how much it had originally been purchased for. It’s for this reason that carpet sellers are listed among the common tourist scams of Turkey.

Wanna make a rug look old and ornate? Lay it out in the harsh sun and let tourists walk over it before one eventually buys it for quadruple its worth

This is where the aforementioned Corps come in. Corps are the rug wholesaler institutions which the Turkish government have subsidized in an effort to curb the migration of village people to major cities in Turkey. This migration is fueled by the desire for better jobs and the comforts of city life, but more often than not results in poverty and struggle for the villagers that move. As the refugee crisis continues to worsen and further stretch the Turkish welfare networks thin, Ankara has begun to take a financial interest in the rug industry. Weaving co-ops have been established in villages with modern looms and equipment, and master weavers have been employed to provide vocational training and ensure quality. Wages are subsidized and materials are provided for the production of these rugs. The Corps are the outlets at which these village rugs get sold, and overall this social welfare program has created artisan opportunities for village people that allow them a chance at prosperity without ever having to move. And for the savvy buyer, they offer trustworthy and quality rugs at an equitable price. It’s the crop sharing of textiles, sans carpet-baggers (heh).

The master weavers

The Corps

And the subsidized silk

Silk, wool, or cotton, it’s the material as well as the level of stitching that affect a rug’s price. One that could cover your living room floor might be a fraction of the price of one that could only barely cover your laptop, and it all comes down to the intricacy of the patterns and how many knots are in each square inch. They’re graded from level 1 to level 10, and a level 10 the size of your table could take several years to complete by a master weaver. A level 4 is your standard village quality, while anything finer than a level 7 must have been knitted by hand. You very much get what you pay for, and if you’re looking for the perfect souvenir from Turkey, then a rug will be well worth your money and carry-on room. Just remember to haggle no matter where you’re shopping! And be patient, if one of your parents is purchasing it…

A Grand Bazaar rug merchant; “Half the price? Still a 500% profit”

Mobikes Mo’ Problems

Overnight, they appeared in major cities. Within a week, there was a pallet of competing colors along sidewalks. And in under a month, the streets were cluttered by kick stands. Bike sharing has become the latest craze in China, piggybacking off of companies like Uber and Didi to give urbanites a new and health-fueled option for short distance commuting or recreation. There’s just one key exception that sets these bike-sharing companies apart from the ones you’re familiar with back home; there aren’t any standardized docking stations. All it takes is a phone app.

Ofo, Mobike, Bluegogo, Geenbike; they’re loose on the streets. These various bike companies have monochromatically branded themselves, creating a rainbow of options scattered across every city that they’ve launched in. All a rider needs to do to access a bike is scan its QR code with the GPS-linked app and get on, and once they’ve finished they can hop off, lock it and walk away. The bikes are anywhere pedestrians might be coming and going, getting dropped off or picked up wherever as people go about their days. “China’s billion-dollar bike-sharing revolution has already transformed the look and feel of cities around the country, with more than 100 million apps downloaded and billions of rides taken on many millions of bikes”- The Washington Post

Anywhere, anytime

Any color

Mobike has positioned itself as the most popular option among foreigners due to their acceptance of foreign identity cards and passports, and to mobike has become as common of a verb as to google among the expat community. For all of the convenience and fun that these bikes have created, the eighth plague of two-wheeled locusts is also causing problems in the cities that they’ve invaded.

A block of Mobikes

5. Two-wheeled mayhem

They mean well and just want to have fun, but there’s a certain etiquette to city cycling that won’t be followed by your average mobiker. Meandering and weaving, clogging bike lanes with sheer numbers, riding on sidewalks or against traffic… It stands to reason that somebody who rarely bikes isn’t all that good at it. Streets can already get pretty hectic here in China, and this multi-colored flood of bikers has created a haphazard environment on the streets for both other bikers and pedestrians.

4. Unexpected costs

1RMB a ride is a pretty good deal, and the deposit of 300RMB makes sense. These apps rely on you topping up your account with a minimum amount of credit, and then working off of that. But if you drop below that minimum or park your bike inside of a residential area… expect huge fees!

A 100 ride fee for one ride too many

3. Broken parts

Wear and tear comes with the territory, and months after the launch, shared bikes have become hit or miss due to broken locks and faulty equipment. It’s a no-brainer that a service based on convenience and accessibility will begin to be relied upon, and nothing is more frustrating than when every bike on your block has been temporarily locked down due to maintenance issues. Or worse yet, if a bike doesn’t unlock when scanned, you can’t relock it to end your ride… often resulting in your account being temporarily frozen after you’ve been forced to report the malfunction. But hey, at least the bikes have only been breaking when I’m running late and not while I’m riding one!

2. Vandalism

While not so much of an issue for the rider, it is funny to see these bikes plastered with ads. As they overwhelm the sidewalks, people are making use of them in every way possible. Then comes the less innocent instances of vandalism, as everybody from disgruntled residents to artistic provocateurs (LINK) do what they please with the surplus of bikes. And let’s not forget the company Wukong, which went bankrupt after 90% of their 16,000 bikes simply disappeared in under 5 months.

When I’d said anywhere…

1. Cluttering and graveyards

There are just simply too many damn bikes. “These days, the key to winning the battle for market share, building brand loyalty, and attracting outside investment isn’t satisfying customer demand. Instead, the focus has shifted to overwhelming the competition” – Sixth Tone’s Why China’s Shared Bikes Are Locked in a Race to the Bottom.  Vandalism hasn’t been the only public response to the flood of bikes on China’s streets, and I’d been shocked to witness first hand the Shenzhen city police piling them into heaps on busy street corners. Amidst the night life were graveyards of bikes tangled atop each other, waiting to be confiscated and impounded. When the business model has shifted from meeting a need to flooding the streets, the backlash amounts to mountains.

When this

Becomes this



Bike sharing; China’s latest craze, and nuisance


Kicked off the Grid

I’d always thought I was so slick for having bought an unlocked iPhone that could be used anywhere in the world, but little did I know, that phone would later become the most expensive paperweight ever within Turkey’s borders.  The day I’d landed in Istanbul was the day the clock began ticking; I’d only had 4 months to register the foreign device before it would be blocked on any and all telecommunication services. Uninformed and already overwhelmed with every other aspect of moving to a foreign country, it wasn’t hard to overlook trivial issues like tariffs and censorship measures as I’d instead focused on researching the amazing things to see and do in my new home.


Fuck tariffs, visit mosques

Like clockwork, exactly 120 days from my first day in Istanbul and in the middle of a phone conversation, one evening in May my phone suddenly lost all service whatsoever. No service found was displayed at the top corner of my screen where bars normally would’ve been, and every attempt to log into my city’s public Wi-Fi had failed without explanation. Restarting my phone had had no effect either, and after almost an hour of frustration, I’d given up and set out for the nearest Turk Telekom shop.

The clerk kept asking me whether or not my phone was foreign, and I kept telling her it didn’t matter as I’d insisted on just adding more money to my account. The manager spoke decent English, and it was only once he’d gotten involved that I’d realized this wasn’t a problem I could just throw money at. He explained to me that foreign phones get blocked after 120 days, and that if I’d known this in advance, I could’ve paid a tax and registered it. The damage was done he told me, because if my phone was already useless, it would stay that way. At least I hadn’t been too late to get in on whatever sale they’d been having on domestic phones that week, but I wasn’t about to so readily trust a guy who would make commission off of my negligence. A visit to the tax office the next day confirmed that I really was too late though, as they’d pointed at the entry stamp in my passport and yet again mentioned 120 days. I’d left empty handed, with a past due passport and a 600 dollar brick in my pocket.

Inconvenienced to the point of asking everybody I could and revisiting both the tax office and several other Turk Telekom branches, I eventually came up with several options. The most obvious option was to buy a domestic phone, while the most inconvenient was to leave the country in order to get a fresh entry stamp in my passport and reset the 120 day clock. The shadier options were paying a friend who had recently returned to Turkey to register the phone under their name, giving it to some agency in order to reset the IME and essentially make it a fresh phone, or hiring one of the Russian students that a Turk Telekom manager happened to know for just such an occasion in order to register a locked phone. I still find it really weird that he’d felt the need to explicitly mention they were Russian during his pitch. Gotta love jingoism.

None of these options came without a price, and while beggars can’t choosers, each would be inconvenient in its own way. Any friend who might register the phone on my behalf would no longer be able to register another for 2 years, agencies that reset IME numbers have a sordid reputation for swapping out parts or overall fucking up a phone permanently, and hiring one of the Russian shills would have cost me close to a quarter of my monthly salary. Eventually though, I was able to find a friend who was both able and willing to help out. And all it ended up costing me was a steak plus several rounds of Tuborg beers. After almost a week of hassle, I was back on the grid.

What you need to register your phone

  • An entry stamp dated within 120 days
  • Your phone’s IME number
  • Roughly 140 Turkish Lira
  • A Turkish residency permit (your kimlik card)
  • Foresight

Steps for registering a phone purchased abroad

  1. Buy a SIM card at any Turkish telecom company, which you’ll need your passport for
  2. Wait for your employer to finish your residency permit and give you your kimlik card
  3. Go to your local Turkish government tax office (Vergi Dairesi) with the phone, your passport, and your kimlik card
  4. Pay the fee in order to register your sim card to your kimlik card, and receive a print out of the receipt that includes an important identification number for your SIM card
  5. Pay a minor registration fee at any post office to make that identification number viable
  6. Either go to the website of the Office of Information Technologies and Communications Organization (BTİ), or call them directly at 0 312 294 94 94, to officially register your SIM card’s identification number
  7. Viola, you’re all set

If you used this guide to register your phone instead of just laugh at my negligence, let me know how these directions worked out for you in the comment section!

New Man New Land Syndrome

Nobody knows you and you’re a novelty. You’re one of a few representatives, if any, of where you grew up, and the locals treat you like a C list celebrity for coming from New York. Your personality flaws are forgiven because that’s just your culture. You’re not actually rude, that’s just how Americans act they all assume. You played some ball back in high school but always wanted to have been more? Fuck it, you were great at it. The MVP of senior year even. Playing up the passport at a club gets you dances with girls who’d never talk to you back home. Even the unwanted attention at a Starbucks for being the only white guy there inflates your ego. Your white skin doesn’t make you stick out like a sore thumb, it makes you shine bright like a star. Jobs you’re unqualified for are flung at you left and right because your status as a foreigner means more than your résumé, and the political science degree that you’ll never follow through with has gotten you starring roles in commercials and teaching positions at top level schools. You make more than most of the locals and you live like a king. You can be whoever you want to be over here.

Thousands of expats a year suffer from a complex known as new man new land syndrome. If you’re living abroad, you’ve most definitely met several. They’ve been here awhile and aren’t planning to leave, because the more they set themselves up here and the more connected they get, the easier their lives become. They’re the self-proclaimed kings of their fiefdoms, the regulars of the local Irish pub and the all-knowing settlers of this foreign culture. Unsolicited advice and condescension layer your conversations with them. They’ve been here longer, and when you’ve eventually been here as long as they have, it will all hopefully make sense to you too. It doesn’t matter who they were back home, because there are no social anchors to ground them back to reality. They just better hope they don’t ever run into anybody they once knew.

Moving Money out of China; the Legal, the Convenient, and the Shady

Whether you’ve taken a job in China as an opportunity to travel the world, to experience a new culture and learn Mandarin, or even just to break out of the normalcy of back home, nobody is denying that the money had also been a major factor. There are countless opportunities for a foreigner in China, and anybody who has been living here for more than a month probably has several side jobs on top of the job they’d originally came for. Tutoring, part-time training centers, transcribing and proofreading, even English basketball training… you’re a valued commodity here, and even if you don’t play your cards right, you’ll still have offers thrust at you left and right just for being a native English speaker. Couple this with the low cost of living and your ability to save huge amounts of money without being forced to live like a pauper in order to do so, and you could easily accumulate a grand or more every month to stash away and send home.


Mao money Mao problems

Making the money is the easy part though, because sending money out of China is where it can get complicated, as well as expensive. The wealthy are getting wealthier in China faster than anywhere else in history, and China’s rising emigration rate is directly related to this. One of the many side effects of the wealthy leaving has been the tightening of currency controls, and while it is a lot easier for a foreigner to send money outside of China, it can still be a hassle if you aren’t aware of all of your options. “What’s the best way to send money home” is a question I’m constantly getting asked, and so I’ve decided to create this guide to lay out the different options available. Establishing a shell corporation in your home country to sue yourself with will unfortunately not be covered though.

Bank Transfers Most legal. Most expensive. Most hassle.

What you’ll need: Tax documents, a Z VISA, and your home bank’s SWIFT code.

If you asked an official, they’d tell you this is how it’s done. Lining up in a bank and potentially waiting for hours, you’ll eventually get your turn to meet with a teller and start the process. You’ll need to pay a fee on both ends, as well as a percentage of the amount that you’re looking to send back, and your tax documents will dictate how much you’re able to transfer at one time. Fees and percentages differ with each bank, and the Bank of China will probably be your best yet most crowded option. Make sure you have the afternoon free and try to keep patient.

International Bank Accounts Most legal. Most expensive. Convenient.

What you’ll need: A Z VISA, your home bank’s SWIFT code, and the money to keep your account open

To my knowledge, only CITI bank and HSBC offer international bank accounts, and from everything I’ve heard, you’ll pay more in upkeep for maintaining your international account than you will doing a bank transfer at a Chinese bank, while still being subject to transfer fees on both ends. The upside, and why some expats consider this the best option, is that bank transfers are painless and easy, they can be done online, and won’t ever eat up a sizeable portion of your day off. This is best option for anybody who wants to move money out of China legitimately and conveniently.

Chinese-assisted Bank Transfers Debatably still legal. Moderately expensive. Some hassle.

What you’ll need: A Chinese friend and your home bank’s SWIFT code

This is the same as the above-mentioned bank transfer, except a Chinese national is doing it for you using their ID. Perfect for anybody working less than legally, you can move large amounts of money without restriction assuming you know somebody well enough to ask them for this favor. A Chinese girlfriend is the obvious option, but my coworkers had also been happy to help when I’d asked them. Just expect to return the favor with something English related around the office when the time comes, or help them buy cheap designer handbags if you ever visit back home.


For anybody still getting paid with envelopes

Western Union Legal. Somewhat expensive. Convenient.

What you’ll need: Your home bank’s SWIFT code or a family member/friend

Western Unions are available in any Chinese city, and fees will vary according to how much you’re sending and the country you’re sending the money to. In my opinion there’s very little reason to send money back this way unless you absolutely need to or only want to send back a small amount. The fees are high and I’m pretty sure the restrictions are tightening every year on how much you can send back at one time and the documents you’re expected to provide. Find a Chinese friend if you need to send money back without providing a valid working VISA.

Mailing a Bank Card Home Not so legal. Cheapest. Most convenient.

What you’ll need: A second Chinese bank account and somebody back home to withdraw the money on your behalf

Union Pay is the interbank network that China uses exclusively, and almost every ATM in America will have their logo next to Visa and Mastercard. After you’ve opened a second bank account, you’ll need to take a photo of the number on the front of the ATM card and then send it home by mail to somebody you trust. Save that account number, you’ll need it later. Myself and people I knew who’ve done this never had any issues mailing an ATM card home, but there is the potential for it to get confiscated on its way out of China. If you’re especially worried about this or don’t want the potential hassle of having to redo the process, you can always carry the card back with you on your next visit home, along with a fat stack of cash of course. The best bank to use as far as international withdrawal fees go is Ping An bank, although if you use Bank of America they should reimburse any and all ATM fees when you use a China Construction Bank card at one of their ATMs. Take your money and go to your local Ping An ATM to deposit the cash without your card by imputing the account number of the card you’d sent home, and wait for whoever’s back home to withdraw the money and drop it into your home bank account.

When you’re sending back large amounts, you should coordinate how much you’re sending back with the maximum that can be withdrawn at any one time (usually 300-500USD) to get the most out of each withdrawal and minimize the fees that will come with it. Even though I’d been working legitimately the majority of my time in China, I’d still chosen to use this method for sending money home simply for its flexibility and lack of fees. In time though, as restrictions continue to tighten, this method may become less viable.

Flying it Home Yourself Totally legal. Situational.

As far as fees go, none of the aforementioned methods are going to be anywhere near as expensive as a plane ticket home. That being said, eventually you’re going to be heading back home whether it be for your summer break, a wedding, or even just to recharge. This is the perfect opportunity to kill two birds with one stone and stuff your pockets with money. Of course, you’ll need to keep in mind that you can only carry up to $5,000 worth of currency out of China, but a little bit more than that had never caused me any trouble. Money does contain RFID chips though, and there will be scanners at every immigration checkpoint checking for egregious amounts of cash, or electronics, that somebody may be covertly trying to exit with. Put the saranwrap down and plan for a second trip back if you’re loaded.


An A+ for effort Photo credit: Reuters/China Daily


Black money men are a common fixture in any Chinese airport, hanging around banks to exchange large amounts of cash for anybody looking to circumvent currency controls


“Taking photos of money laundering is against the bank’s policies”

Getting screwed out the door

I wrote about this years ago, and then I got too comfortable. My direct manager was my friend from before either of us had started working this company, and I’d thought two and half years of working with there, padded by two promotions, would’ve afforded me fair treatment. That’s turning out to be an increasingly expensive misconception.

Having just come back from an unpaid vacation home for the holidays, I’d decided to leave China at the end of the current semester to pursue new things. In an attempt to avoid burning bridges or laying any collateral damage at the desk of my friend-first-manager-second, I’d decided to do things the official way with a formal notice of my intentions. I didn’t need to; in fact, there wasn’t much downside at all to not doing it legitimately… Some personal fallout, a bad taste in my mouth, and maybe an angry email or two. The winter break was coming up and I would’ve received my salary during that time, well before I would have been expected to be back in China, giving me plenty of time to no-show or create a personal tragedy once I’d had my money. The ATM fees in America would’ve been peanuts to get my money out of China, now more than ever considering I’m out almost 2,000 USD for being the good guy.

I mentioned a promotion just now, which is, or should I say was, more so an additional role I’d played in the company acting as their cultural consultant while also teaching. There’d still been quite a bit of work I could’ve done during my final month to earn this separate salary, but only a day after handing in my formal letter of intent, that rider-contract had been retroactively canceled, despite the clause that required 2 weeks in order to legally terminate it. “Get a lawyer” the vice CEO had said, as if I was going to be around to fight this.

I’d always thought I was lucky for working in a middle school, since their winter holiday, and my vacation, started about 2 weeks before anybody else’s. In this instance though, it meant my pay would stop 2 weeks earlier, regardless of when I was planning to leave the country since I was ultimately leaving the company. Every other teacher would be paid for that full month regardless of their school’s end date or when they were planning to head out on vacation, as an incentive to not unexpectedly disappear during the 6 week break like I could have. Sure, not receiving this pay was slightly more understandable than flagrantly terminating my consulting position, because any rational person would say “yea, well you were done teaching,” but again, my contract and its terms of leaving had been blatantly ignored.

This blog post isn’t to say my former company is terrible or even that I would never again recommend them to somebody else; it’s just a statement of how the ESL industry in China often works. If I’d ended exactly as they’d expected, I’m sure everything would’ve have gone accordingly. Call it a tax, or an embedded cost, but if they don’t need to pay for something, they probably won’t. Business and profit come first, and while I’m not particularly pleased about all of this, I’m still good friends with my direct supervisor whose hands had ultimately been tied. Insert that one quote about hindsight and good vision here, and be aware of what could happen if you’re ever in the same boat. That’s just how it can be here, a costly con across from all of the pro’s of living and working in China.

Needless to say, he paid for my going away dinner

Needless to say, he paid for my going away dinner

Courting Employers from afar

I gotta say, applying to jobs abroad kind of sucks. I don’t have much experience with online dating, due to the fact that it also sucks, but from the limited amount I’ve gathered from friends and by browsing tinder nightmares, I’ve come to the conclusion that they suck quite similarly and I’m prepared to back it up. If you were one of over 10,000 eHarmony members that met your spouse through their website this year alone, my bad.

No standardization whatsoever

Some profiles are just better put together; they’ve provided good information about themselves, were written interestingly, and have plenty of pictures that aren’t just selfies. Then you’ve got profiles that only have a sentence each and force you to judge the person solely off of their looks, as well as ones written so terribly that you’re unable to even make it past the second run-on sentence.

Employment ads for international jobs end up having the same downfalls. If you have to scour through paragraphs of varying fonts to find relevant job information, they’re probably not an organized employer with streamlined management experience. If the ad is in broken English with ridiculous pragmatic errors, read through it because that shit is hilarious, although this is also an indicator of inexperience working with foreigners… despite promising a Fortune 500 sunny everyday worker living. And then, some ads have been formatted and structured to give you everything you need to know upfront and a clear view of what life will be like there, while others read professionally enough to make you confident about buying a plane ticket with your own money to wherever it is that they are. Although when it all comes down to it, writing structure really isn’t going to be what you look at if you’re going to judge a book by its cover…

First impressions boil down to a single detail

Shallow as it might be, there’s a necessary first step for each of these, regardless of whether or not most people would admit it this openly… physical and fiscal attractiveness. How do they look? Are they attractive enough to meet my friends? What’s the pay? Can I live well and save here? If these requirements aren’t met, then it won’t matter how cool they’d seemed or how cushy the job would’ve been; the offer is simply no longer on the table. Only once this initial barrier has been crossed can personalities/job details start to be explored, with concessions being made based off of just how good they look. To avoid appearing as anything but a gentleman, I’ll keep it only about jobs for the rest of this.

Well, I definitely wasn’t looking to work that much, but damn could I hammer away at my debt there

You want me to work in the desert?! Staying on an alcohol-free compound of only men?!! Wait, how much did you just say? …Oh, yea, ok, when can I start?

Teaching kindergarten students makes me want to do somersaults down stairwells, but damnnnnn look at what they’re paying.

The I’ve got personality flaws/baggage warning

Dating websites give their users full reign to express what they’re looking for, which I guess is exactly what they should be doing. How this goes wrong though comes from the fact that people are people, and some of those people have crazy shit orbiting around them that they’ve chosen to type out in a paragraphical red flag. Employment ads generally aren’t as obvious as and if you’re this type of person, don’t even bother messaging me, although depending on where you’re looking white candidates only isn’t uncommon at all.

The way employers try to not make the same mistake twice is instead within their policies. The contract clause “payment for winter holiday will be withheld/staggered until Party B has re-attended their duties at their school for X amount of time” should have a face next to it, with a big ‘ole this guy ruined it for everybody else caption underneath it. Foreigners can come and go as they please, and the more financial controls and penalties that a contract has written into it, the more previous employees of theirs had probably dipped out unexpectedly. Or this place is managed by jerks. Either way, red flag.

Safety concerns are another one, like how this one job in Indonesia I’d looked at suggested getting daily malaria medication before coming, and how an international school in Brazil had promised to put us in a very safe, gated community. Why do they emphasize that they’ll routinely rotate vehicles when driving us to and from the school? The worst by far though had come up during a phone interview with a job I’d actually almost chosen to accept; Oh, and before we proceed further, I’m legally required to inform you that in 2003, a suicide bomber had managed to gain access to our compound and kill 9 people. Don’t worry though, since then we’ve upgraded our security with Jersey gates and a second guard checkpoint. A lot of guys will tell you crazy girls are fun, and since this article is all about drawing parallels, dangerous jobs are lucrative.


“Just keep your head down and you’ll be debt free in no time, Mr. Collins”

Sending out large amounts of messages and waiting for responses

Did they get my message? Did I say the wrong thing? Am I just ugly? Did he manage to get back with that ex he couldn’t ever get over? There’s no way of reading the person you’re contacting, and communication is limited to typing alone. Applying to job ads feels the same, and I haven’t always gotten responses. Maybe they’d already found somebody, or maybe on paper I just wasn’t right for them. Perhaps that recruiter had recently quit and nobody will never even know I’d applied. A headhunter who’d been enthusiastically up my ass for several days unexpectedly dropped off the map for a week… Did he fill the spot with somebody more preferable? Did he lose the contract? Did he skim my email while driving and then forget to get back to me once he was actually free to respond? Applying from abroad has this feeling of always being kept at arm’s length, and until you’ve received a contract to potentially sign, it’s hard to count on anything. Juggling so much with preparing to move to another country, buying reasonably-priced plane tickets as far in advance as possible, and settling up your affairs wherever you currently are… it can get really stressful without a tangible offer. There is one thing to be said though, being clingy when applying internationally will get you a whole lot further than it will on tinder.

You’ll never know if you’re being cat-fished until it’s too late

Just outside the city center, assuming you’re commuting by helicopter

Enter on a tourist visa and work illegally while we attempt to process your working visa in-country.

Of course accommodation is provided, or you’re free to get your own place if you wouldn’t like living in a closet or with 7 other teachers.

Our license to legally hire foreigners is on its way, don’t you worry! Just don’t mention you work for us in the meantime if anybody asks.

Only 20 classes per week, unless we can get more students to sign up, in which you’ll need to work like a dog six days a week, because our profit matter more than your happiness

Nobody will ever be this straightforward about these unfortunately realistic and very possible scenarios. You’re at the mercy of these people’s honesty, and unless you’re able to contact current employees or find a scathing blog post forewarning any would-be applicants, then you’ll just need to have faith that you’ll be flying into a good situation. Nothing’s worse than showing up at a cafe and realizing that photo was from 3 years ago when they had actually exercised. But don’t you worry, that’s just winter weight, and living so far outside of the city that you’ll never have a social life is a great way to pay off your student loans. Perhaps this is the biggest similarity, some just want to screw you. Best of luck in your search.


The little things add up, and the big things, well, after awhile they stop being so big, and in the long run that’s so much worrisome than the pressures of any day to day issue. Expat life can be disconnecting, and while you’ve hopefully made a fulfilling life for yourself wherever you’re at, it’s all too easy for home to drift farther and farther away, year after year.

You’ll miss out on birthdays and traditions, you won’t be around when relationships change to either celebrate, or help forget, and holidays that are foreign to where you are will become more and more mirage-like as the years pass. Exorbitant flight costs and days worth of cross continental travel, on top of the work schedule that had brought you abroad in the first place, make it unfeasible to go back for anything but the biggest and most important events. It’s all too easy to become isolated from not only the people you love, but the culture that made you you, and managing to stay connected will require more upkeep that you could’ve realized. Every now and then, you’re going to need to recharge.

Splurge on the plane ticket home for a week, make a major holiday special again by going somewhere unique for it, order gifts via the internet on important days, and put Skype to full use during your daily life. Backpacking through Asia during a summer or winter break is pretty tight, but eventually you’re going to need to pass it up for a solid 3-4 weeks home with your friends and family, and that’s natural. You can live it up and make Facebook jealous next time. Jacked up travel costs, pay cuts, using personal time… Trust me that none of those will mean a single thing to you when you’re there at your childhood friend’s wedding, celebrating with the people that matter on the most important day of their life. Do what you need to do for you and yours; living abroad is an amazing experience but should never be at the expense of your domestic life.


The 20 Things You’ll Need to Be Able to Do in Order to Get Your Driver’s License in China

You can’t live here for a year and a half without picking up some Chinese, and mine has gotten pretty good over the last 8 months. I recently got the chance to check out a preparation manual for the Chinese driver’s license exam, and after reading through all of the different rules and laws for driving here, I’ve realized most foreigners probably know very little about the driving etiquette here in China. Below is a translated list of the 20 major things every driver should be able to do to get out onto the road. Learn and enjoy, I hope this prepares you for traffic in China!

Driver’s license requirements. You must be able to:

  1. Whip your car down a one-way street going the opposite direction, slamming on the horn at anybody in your way.
  2. Slam on the gas to cover the 5 meters between you and the car ahead of you, then brake hard to avoid rear ending them. Space between cars means lost time.
  3. Pull a U-turn anywhere at anytime. Slamming on the horn is optional.
  4. Jam your car ahead of other cars to gain access to that lane. You only have the right of way if you’re blocking another vehicle.
  5. Never use a turn signal, and instead slightly jerk your car in whatever direction you want to go in. If cars move out of the way and nobody slams on the horn, proceed to swerve into that lane.
  6. Slam on the horn if people are crossing the road ahead of you, regardless of the distance and whether or not you could even make it to them before they’d finished crossing.
  7. Slam on the horn as you cut into another lane to pass a vehicle that’s only slightly exceeding the speed limit.
  8. Slam on the horn if you’re stuck in a line of cars due to an obstruction up ahead. It doesn’t matter if you’re the second car back or the sixth car back, you must show how displeased you are about being stopped for several seconds by laying on the horn until you can move forward again.
  9. Slam on the horn at anything, for any reason, at anytime.
  10. Drive into the oncoming lane to go around anything that is blocking you. Lines in the road are only suggestions, and you can cross them whenever it allows you to get where you’re going faster.


    Notice how there’s oncoming traffic on either side of our taxi? I guess that bus had somewhere it really needed be

  11. Swerve across 3 or more lanes in one swoop.
  12. Get your car as close as physically possible to any object blocking your way, even if it impedes them getting out of your way. Slam on your horn to announce your presence.
  13. Ride up on anything that has less wheels than you. Bikes and motorcycles are supposed to drive on the sidewalk anyways
  14. Go as fast as possible regardless of what is ahead of you. When needed, slam on the brakes.
  15. Park wherever the fuck you please.IMG_3392

    Shown here is a perfect example of the half on half off technique that ever driver in China has mastered

    Shown here is a perfect example of the half on half off technique that ever driver in China has mastered

  16. Parallel park your car in no less than 8 moves, blocking traffic while you do this.
  17. Avoid pedestrians only if they’re in a group of 6 or more. Any less than that and you’re not responsible if you clip one of them.
  18. Purposefully block another car from overtaking you, regardless of whether or not your vehicular stand off could cause an accident. It’s their responsibility to swerve and aggressively pass you. This skill especially applies for exit ramps and turning lanes.
  19. Make a bus drivers life as miserable as you possibly can. Never yield or allow them to get where they need to go. It’s their fault they’re driving a vehicle that’s larger than most of the cars on the road.
  20. Stop your car wherever it’s most convenient. Vehicles behind you are expected to swerve around you.

Remember future drivers, if it doesn’t give you a flat tire or wreck your axle then you can swerve onto it, slamming on the horn is always recommended, and the key to defensive driving is driving as aggressively as you possibly can!

TL;DR Drive like you want to cause property damage

Although nothing could compare to the first hand experience of being bounced around the backseat of a taxi as it swerved through rush hour traffic, this video does a pretty good job of showing how recklessly impatient and aggressive Chinese drivers can be.

An Unexpected Downside of Living in Southern China

You’d think an area that’s hitting 80 degrees or above 8 months out of the year would be a great place to live. For all intents and purposes, Shenzhen is 100% better than what I’d experienced in Beijing; beaches and ocean breezes, cleaner air and better weather than Northern China (not counting the occasional Typhoon of course), greenery and wildlife infiltrating every street, overall higher wages in the ESL industry, and a close proximity to Hong Kong and Macau that ensures some awesome weekend adventures while also guaranteeing a higher degree of civility and manners in the people.



Shenzhen is an incredibly modern city, and compared to the rest of China it’s more progressive, polite and adaptive. Shenzhen’s rapid growth from a small fishing port of roughly 80,000 people in the 80’s to the 12 million plus metropolis that it is now has had some great advantages, allowing it to have been designed from the ground up and built based on modern ideologies and efficiency, rather than as a reaction to time and growth like so many of the other major cities in China; Beijing is constantly being torn down and rebuilt as it attempts to keep up with the 21st century, trapping the city in a continuous state of half splendor and half dilapidation. For how well Shenzhen’s design and expansion had been planned out, nobody had ever thought to include heating systems in the buildings. But for a city that’s more southern than Florida, you wouldn’t think that it’d be an issue… right? Fuck that. Wrong.


Look at those beautiful, heaterless buildings

It’s mid February and tonight my apartment is 35 degrees. I’m wrapped in blankets as I write this, shivering and letting out a visible mist with every breath. The toilet had resembled a cauldron when I peed earlier, steam literally rising out of it. Even though the summers here are sweltering and dance around triple digit temperatures everyday, and even though three quarters of the year is T-shirt and shorts weather, what nobody tells you about South China is that 2 months of that same year are bone chillingly cold. Those ocean breezes are no longer your friend, and the combination of low temperatures, lack of heating and high humidity will cut through any clothing and burrow deep into your muscles until they ache. There couldn’t have been a worse way of finding all of this out than having just flown back from touring the balmy South East of Asia. I’d had no way of preparing for this either; nobody packing for the South ever includes winter clothing! To their credit, my Chinese coworkers had tried to warn me it would get cold down here, but because they wear coats when it’s 70 degrees outside, naturally I had ignored everything they said. Since there isn’t a knob or dial in my apartment that raises the heat like anywhere else I’ve ever lived, my only option is to invest in one of the few space heaters that hasn’t sold out yet… if, of course, I can find a way to stomach the price gouging of an item that will be irrelevant by the end of this month. Can I just go back to Thailand?


Instead of a picture of my steaming toilet, I’ll show you where the frigid death blows in from