Featured Posts Slider

Image Slider

What I Miss About my Life in the States

September 28, 2016
While being in China is the right decision for me now, I can't help but miss a few things about my life back in the States. It seems like I've adjusted or have found a way around most of these, which is great. There are always plusses and drawbacks to living anywhere, and I'm certainly not trying to say that life in the States is perfect, but practically every expat out there surely must miss a some things about their home country, am I right? I'm sure that once I leave China, I'll have a list of what I miss about living here, too!

*Clean air- Overall, the air in the USA is much better than here in China. Lately, here in Shanghai the AQI (air quality index) has been pretty low, which we have all been loving! I know that the factories were shut down for the G20 Conference in nearby Hangzhou, so that helped a lot. The conference was over in early September, but the air still been pretty good for Shanghai. Right now it's at 87, for example. The skies have been blue, we can go outside, and I'm not coughing and wheezing or getting out of breath like I do when the AQI goes over 200. Others have told me that the opening of Shanghai Disney has also affected the air quality, in that some factories are still shut down to keep the air from getting too polluted. I'm really hoping that this trend continues because last winter there were some days that were so bad that I had to just stay inside.

*Drinkable tap water- The tap water in Shanghai isn't potable, so we all have large water jugs with a dispenser in our rooms. It's better than when I lived in Seoul and had to buy my own bottles of water every day, but it's slightly annoying that I have to pay for water. However, the main issue why this isn't the best for me is because with my back problems there's no way I can lift the water jug up on my own, so I'm dependent on others if I run out of water. If I'm running really low, I usually store some in a pitcher in my refrigerator so I always have at least some cold water. The good news is that the school gave me a Brita as a gift, and I've been able to use that! I just don't fill it up all the way each time so that I can still carry it. 

*A large selection of reading material available in English- Of course there are some bookstores here in Shanghai with English sections, but the stores I've been to do not usually have the books I'm looking to buy. Luckily, I bought a Kindle, and that has solved most of this problem. I do love to read magazines, though and haven't yet found a way around that. There are copies of Glamour and Marie Claire available in the airport, but they're gosh...about $8 for one.

*Fast internet- The internet here in China is touch and go. It's rare that a whole day passes and I don't encounter any problems. For personal use, I'll just try again later, but it really bothers me when I have issues during my lessons! There are so many times that an educational video won't load or a site won't work when it's supposed to. I do have backup plans, but it can be really frustrating for me and for the students. It's also kind of a pain when I need to do work/look up resources and have no access. to the internet.

*Regional American food- Yes, there are restaurants in China that serve Western food, but some specialities are hard to find. I really miss Southern food! (I do have to say that I'm pretty happy with the food selection in Shanghai, though. There are so, so many wonderful restaurants to choose from).

*Not having an oven or dryer- Even in the States I hang up some of my clothes on a drying rack to dry, but I do miss having soft, fluffy right-out-of-the-dryer towels. My towels here get so stiff when they air-dry. On the plus side, at least not using a dryer is better for the environment, right? As for an oven, our apartments come with a hot plate, but no oven. Last year, I didn't use one at all because a close friend and I went out for dinner at the cheap, local restaurants nearby. One of the teachers at my school last year left and gave me her oven for free (so sweet!), so at least now I have a small one. I find myself using it almost every day, and wonder how I even made it through last year without one. It's great for making toast or heating up quiches or for cooking meat.

*Western style toilets- Some places in China do have them, but definitely not all places. I've seen more Western ones in Shanghai than anywhere else I've been in China. I really can't stand the squatter style toilets, especially because I can't even really use them now because of my back problems. Some might argue that it's more hygienic, but 99% of the ones I've used have been in a filthy, sorry state with plenty of bodily fluids (and errr...solids) surrounding the toilet in the ground.

*Having access to my favorite products- I make do and buy what's on shelves here, but many of the brands I want are not available here. Luckily, when my friends go back to the States, they usually offer to pick up a few must-have items and bring them to Shanghai for me.

*Finding clothes and shoes in my size- I can find shirts and some dresses here, but shoes, shorts, and pants? Yeah, right!! Unless I get them tailor-made. Some of my shoes I brought from the States are looking pretty worn out, but I just keep wearing them since I can't get replacements.

*The whole fall pumpkin craze- Shanghai doesn't really have a good fall--it goes from hot to cold and last year Scott and I were waiting in vain to see the fall foliage. I do have to give props to Ohio because autumn there is so beautiful. On the other hand, I love Shanghai's mild winter!

*Common courtesy/better manners- Shanghai is just has a high population and getting shoved around a bit is a way of life. I guess you could say I miss having more personal space. I also miss how fewer people spit in public than in the States. The spitting is quite common here among men (and a few women). No one really holds the door for you, either. And people not respecting lines is also normal, but it's just something you learn to deal with.

*Driving- The way I get around Shanghai is by either walking or taking a taxi. I used to take the subway, but it's too dangerous for me now because I'm still recovering and cannot be bumped into (a certainty on the subway). Last year, I thought about buying a bike, but again, I can't do that yet and probably not for awhile because of my back. Anyway, I miss driving because it's so nice to just get in your car and not have to worry about no taxis being available. Also, a big issue for me this year is that I can't go to grocery stores and carry the bags back to my apartment because of my surgery. If I had a car, I could just load a few items at a time and transport them back to my place. Furthermore, I miss the independence and freedom of hopping into a car and going anywhere I want.

*People not calling me fat- In the States, I just don't get called fat. At least not to my face, but here in China I hear it rather frequently and usually accompanied with laughter, and who wants to hear that? I try to ignore the negative comments, but it isn't always easy.

While I do miss some of these comforts from home, I am glad that I decided to stay in Shanghai for another year, even though I was having my doubts about it at one of the lowest points in my life this past summer.

If you've ever been an expat, what do you miss about your home country?

Why I'm Okay with Being a Hobby Blogger

September 26, 2016
When you're a blogger, you have to do what's right for you. Whether that means you blog full or part-time or whether or not you do it for a living, you need to choose what meets your needs. Right now I am a part-time hobby blogger, meaning, I post a few times a month and do not get paid on a regular basis. To be honest, I only ever earn a few cents when I use some affiliate links, which is peanuts, but I'm totally fine with that. I know I could try harder to put in more affiliate links, but right now that is not super important to me. Maybe one day this will change, and I'm certainly not bashing those who do, but my blog is an outlet for me to share my life, thoughts, experiences, and travels. Most importantly, it is fun for me...hence using the word "hobby." Below I'll be sharing why being a hobby blogger is the right choice for me.

Styled Photography by: Ashley
* I don't post consistently, and I don't feel guilty about it. Would I like to find more time to blog? Of course, but I have other priorities. My main one right now is my health, and I have to rest A LOT these days, so I just don't get upset thinking, "Oh my gosh, I only posted 4 times this month."

* Like I said, blogging is not a large source of income for me in the slightest bit, so I don't rely heavily (or really AT ALL) on any money I earn from it. I know bloggers who apply for all of those campaigns must work really hard, and right now that would just be more stress in my life. 

* Blogging doesn't feel like work. I don't have a blogging schedule or any real obligations to fulfill, and I love having that freedom!

* I don't think I have what it takes blog full-time as a main source of income. There are a lot of full-time bloggers out there that continually post at least three times a week and are always coming up with stellar content.  They have a strong presence on several forms of social media, too. While I enjoy sending out a few tweets here and there, and posting on Instagram, I am not that savvy when it comes to social media. Also, the big bloggers have to deal with such scrutiny. I don't think I want to be under the microscope like that--from grammatical errors to photography, those bigger bloggers can be judged harshly. 

* I like my full-time job right now, so I wouldn't want to give that up to blog full-time. There are some bloggers out there that do both, and more power to them, but I couldn't/wouldn't give up the large amount of time I devote to rest and relaxation and travel in order to work and blog full-time. 

* I have full control of the content I publish on my blog. I've turned down a couple of offers to write sponsored posts for products I don't truly believe in, and I don't even think twice about the money. Wait, that just made me sound like I'm rolling in money...read this post and you'll find that is far from the truth. 

* Tying this in with my last point, there is less pressure in general. Not all of my posts are helpful ones, which many big bloggers say is key for growing your audience. Some are (hopefully!) but there are a bunch of posts on here that are just me telling a story or sharing snippets from my life, and I don't really intend on stopping those types of posts. 

What kind of blogger are you?

Fall 2016 Goals

September 17, 2016
I wasn't going to blog today, and then I saw Steph's link up, and thought, "Why not?" I haven't done a goals post in awhile and sharing goals with others helps me stay on track.

*Plan Christmas vacation to Sanya. I'm super nervous about this trip because the last time I traveled, I  ended up in the hospital for 55 days and had to get flown back to Shanghai on a stretcher and have back surgery. BUT, I'm also excited to finally be able to be somewhat normal and go on a short trip. My doctors told me that a three hour flight is okay for me, but that I should wear my back brace and try to get up as much as possible on the plane. I was planning on doing a girls' trip and we were going to stay at a resort for three days, so if it turns out I'm feeling too tired to go out and do activities, my plan is to just lounge at the resort and enjoy the tropical weather. This will be a good test run for Hawaii, and once I'm able to go on one trip and come out fine, I'm sure my confidence will be boosted for future trips.

*Finish reading The Mountain Shadow, the sequel to Shantaram. I have this on my Kindle and keep forgetting about it. To be honest, Shantaram is one of my favorite books of all time, but The Mountain Shadow just isn't holding my attention in some parts. 

*Go to a Friends' Thanksgiving. Last year instead of having a get together at someone's house and eating American food, we went to teppanyaki (a Japanese steakhouse). The food made me violently ill afterwards. I lost like 4 pounds in two days from food poisoning, ha ha. Let's just say that this year, I hope for a better Thanksgiving, and I'm pretty sure I'll have be able to have a good one. 

*Blog one time a week. Such a lofty goal, I know. No, but in all seriousness, it is hard for me to find energy to blog after work. After working a full day, my feet are usually so swollen, my back is sore, and I really need to lie flat and rest. I still would like to check in every now and again, and if I can post more, that's great. 

*Find fall food in Shanghai. I already ordered some pumpkin bread, and I'm kind of dying for a slice. This year, I want to be sure to have at least one piece of pumpkin pie, and if I could find some apple cider, that would be fantastic!

*Wire my dad $2,000. I already talked about my financial goals in another post, but my first paycheck since April will be coming at the end of September, and I need to pay my dad back for my surgery. It will be my first payment to him, and I'll be so relieved once I give him back even just a small portion of what I owe him. 

*Start hosting the Weekly Wrap Up again. Rachael and I hosted this link up a few years ago and then brought it back...We had just started, but then I was hospitalized for so long and had no or just plain spotty internet, not to mention I had some major health problems to worry about. We'd like to start it back up sometime soon.

*Hang out with my co-teacher. We will have a week off during October for the Chinese National Holiday, so we hope to do something fun together then. 

*Move back to my apartment. After my surgery, my friend Scott moved some of my personal belongings down to a 1st floor apartment in another building since I live on the top floor of an apartment building with no elevator. I was too unsteady to go up and down all those steps, so that's why I moved. I am getting antsy to go back to my own place, though. When I move back it will truly feel like I'm moving on from what happened to me last May. I very much look forward to taking that step.

What do you hope to accomplish this fall?

Visiting Unawatuna and Galle in Sri Lanka

September 16, 2016
Unawatuna- Rachael, Scott, and I arrived in Unawatuna after having spent five days in paradise at the Sun Island Resort in the Maldives. Since everything on the resort was so expensive--almost $5 USD for a liter of water and cocktails that were about $15 each, we were so excited to be in a cheaper place. Also, in the Maldives, we just had to eat at the same place for most of our meals. Don't get me wrong, the food was good, but one of my favorite things about traveling is discovering new restaurants, which Unawatuna was perfect for! In fact, on our first full day, the very first thing we did was go shopping and then we stopped at a fruit juice stand. Fresh fruit was abundant in Sri Lanka! Usually I struggle and fail to eat the recommended daily serving of fruit, but not so in Sri Lanka. Scott and I said we felt so healthy there because we were eating so well, getting enough sleep, and didn't really have any responsibilities (so the ideal vacation). 

As far as the shopping was concerned, besides clothes and trinkets, there were so many jewelry shops selling pieces made of moonstone, rose quartz, topaz, and rubies. The list goes on. We all bought jewelry at some point, as we found some nice items to give as gifts to our friends and relatives.

For the clothes, I couldn't really find anything that fit me. Almost everything seemed like it was for someone tiny, or at least someone tinier than me (99% of all women), so I bought my petite friend some printed pants. One of the shop owners said she could tailor a dress for me, but when I tried it on, it looked so terrible. It seriously looked like I was wearing a sack, and I left it behind in the guest house because it wasn't even worth taking it with me. At least it only cost me $7 and we all got a good laugh out of it.

Rachael and I wanted to try an Ayurvedic massage, so we stopped by Kahuna Club. We both have to say that our massage experience was unlike any other. One portion of the massage was called Shirodhara, which our masseurs kept referring to as the third eye oil massage. Basically there is a funnel like contraption placed over your head while you're lying down. Oil drips from this onto your forehead and then it seeps down to your scalp. The speed at which the oil drips can be controlled, at least mine was! I have to say that it was pretty relaxing, and the oil is supposed to be good for your scalp and hair. For the last part of my massage, I went into what Rachael and I describe as a "hot coffin." Your head does stick out the top part of it, and then the "door" is closed over the rest of your body. It gets so hot and you are supposed to sweat out all of your toxins that way, similar to what happens in a sauna.

Of course we also had to have a beach day since that is the main thing to do in Unawatuna. There are a bunch of beach chairs owned by different restaurants. If you order food and drinks, then the owner will let you sit in the chairs "for free." (Even though it's not really free). It was fine though because we enjoy a good cocktail now and then. The beach was nice, but a bit crowded, or at least we thought so. However, we had just come from the Maldives where there were just a few/no other people on the beaches we went to. Anyway, we liked it there, but just go in knowing that there will be many other tourists and the locals will come around and try to sell you stuff.

Another attraction to go take a look at are the fisherman who sit on stilts to fish. This way of fishing is dying out, and nowadays the fishermen make you pay money if you take a picture of them fishing, but it's still worth a look, in my opinion.

For Food in Unawatuna

Roti Shop: We stopped here for a snack to take with us on our way to the beach, although there is seating inside. You just select your filling, and they're fried up right in front of you. Both sweet and savory options are available. Some of the choices I remember were: honey, banana, chocolate, mushroom, tomato, cheese, etc. Of course you could get combinations of those, too. Highly recommended for an inexpensive meal or snack.

Shifting Sands Cafe: The vibe of this restaurant is what got me. It's so relaxing in there, which is good because like most places in Sri Lanka, there will be a long wait to get your food. We got used to that, and just enjoyed each other's company and conversation while waiting. I got the prawn sandwich, and all three of us were very happy with our food. The food was reasonably priced and freshly made.

Pink Elephant: This was a place that the expat owners of our guesthouse recommended to us. We figured we could trust their judgement since they lived there for so many years, and they were right. I had a very delicious spicy prawn cream curry with banana fritters for dessert. Actually, I think this was my favorite meal in Sri Lanka.

Koha Surf Cafe and Lounge: We had dinner here one night after browsing the menu and liking the selection of food that was offered. I got a vegetarian chickpea burger that was tasty. We sat near the front of the restaurant, so it was a good spot to people watch as others passed by on the street. It's just a nice place to chill and have a decent meal.

Galle- We visited Galle (pronounced "Gawl") on a day trip from Unawatuna. I recommend either doing this or else staying in Galle and going on a day trip to Unawatuna, depending on your preferences. The two towns are only about 6 kilometers apart, and we didn't want to bother with changing accommodation, so that was part of the reason why we just took a day trip. It was very easy to get from one place to the other, and we went by tuk tuk. We didn't book it in advance, although you can. It was easy enough to just hail a tuk tuk and then ask the driver to take us.  We didn't have any problems on the way up or back, and it was 400 rupees each way.

The city used to be controlled by the Portuguese, and then the Dutch took over. The architecture of the city reflects this, and the city itself is surrounded by a fort. We strolled along the fort and took in the views first. Then, we stopped for a bite to eat at The Hammock Cafe. The cafe lives up to its name and is full of hammocks to sit on while you have your meal! I had a Hawaiian salad served inside of a hollowed out pineapple.

We walked up and down streets to check out the sights and do some shopping in some of the boutiques.  Again, there were a lot of gem and jewelry shops. We also all purchased items at a shop that sold handmade goods completely made by women, and some of the profits went back to them. All three of us also bought different types of Sri Lankan tea in a tea shop.

We walked around town a bit more, stopped for some gelato, and then headed down to take a look at the lighthouse.

Where We Stayed

Palm Grove- Scott picked this guesthouse for us based on Trip Advisor reviews. The owners were nice and the staff was attentive and professional. We really liked the rooftop area, as it was a relaxing place to chill out. Scott spent a few hours up there just reading. To be honest, my favorite thing about staying there was the breakfast! A lot of places didn't have stellar coffee, but Palm Grove's coffee hit the spot. We were brought several different types of fruit, coffee or tea, freshly baked bread with butter, and one day I added on pancakes. The rooms were clean, but our room was so hot and stuffy, even though we had A/C and a fan going. You might think, "Well, it's Sri Lanka, so it's going to be like that everywhere," but other places we stayed in got quite cool with the A/C. It wasn't that big of a  deal once we got used to it, but on the first night, I had trouble sleeping. The location was also good, as there were tons of restaurants and shops nearby and the beach was within walking distance, too.

Does going to Sri Lanka interest you?

Successes and Struggles

September 12, 2016
So, I think I'm through the worst of my health issues, knock on wood. And knock on wood again. I'm afraid I scared all of my readers away with my dramatic posts, and also think I might have PTSD from what I went through here. The good news is that I'm doing better than I thought I would, but the bad news is that I'm still very far from being "normal."

*Success: I went and got my scans done at the hospital, and my surgeon said that everything looks good! That means the fusion is working, which is a HUGE deal because if I went through all of that for nothing...Oh my goodness, I can't even think about it. I'm just elated that my surgery worked.

*Struggle: I went from complete bed rest to working full time. It has been very hard on me. Sometimes I feel like an actual zombie. I usually am in bed by 9 pm and sleep the night through. 

*Success: Little things that I couldn't do before are slowly becoming easier for me. I now feel comfortable enough to walk along the streets near where I live and get food or purchase items from shops. 

*Success: I don't have to worry about groceries for the time being. I'm not allowed to carry anything heavier than a gallon of milk, so I was really worried about how I would go grocery shopping. Luckily, I have special permission to get food delivered directly to my room. (Usually delivery drivers are not allowed past the front gate). 

*Struggle: It's a bit embarrassing wearing my back brace in front of all of these new teachers. I'm not the kind of person that likes to attract attention to myself, but I absolutely have to wear my brace. I started wearing a tank top and then put the brace over that and underneath another shirt, but the problem is that I need something visible here in China to show that I'm injured so I don't get bumped. I decided that I wouldn't judge anyone with their leg in a cast or with their arm in a sling, so I shouldn't feel awkward about wearing my brace. It's just silly. 

*Struggle: It has been hard not having my BFF Scott here in China with me this year. I was so used to walking with him, that it felt extremely bizarre to walk alone on campus. At one point, I even turned my head to talk to him and no one was there. 

*Success: My co-teacher and another floating teacher are helping me out throughout the day so that I can rest more. I don't have to take the kids to lunch this semester, so that's 30 extra minutes that I'm able to lie down per day. That really does help immensely.

*Struggle/Success: Once I started being up on my feet, my ankles got SUPER swollen. Like a freakish amount. My right ankle was bigger than when I had sprained it years back. I showed my doctors and they told me that it definitely was not normal and ordered that I get a sonogram. After waiting in the hospital for a day and a half, I was told that I didn't have any blood clots. Whew!! I can deal with the swollen ankles for the time being. I mean, it makes sense. I was lying flat almost the whole day before, so being up and around all day is probably just a shock to my body. 

*Struggle: Everyone is out and is making new friends. I am still limited in what I can do and need a lot of rest, so I haven't made any new friends because I don't socialize all that much. It's hard to hear about everyone's plans and full lives. I usually don't suffer from fear of missing out, but I have it now! 

*Struggle: There are still things I can't really do like bend, twist, etc. I'm not supposed to be doing these things now, so I do try to avoid these actions, but I couldn't really bend certain ways even if I wanted to. It makes me worried because I don't know if/when I'll ever be able to again.

*Success: I was able to get the last of my stitches out on Sunday, which means that the wound that was open for so long is finally something I don't need to worry about anymore. That's a HUGE RELIEF. When it was open, it was susceptible to infection which could've made my surgery fail! Also, I was having to go back to the hospital three times a week all summer long, and now I don't have to go for another 3 months. You have no idea how happy that makes me!!

*Struggle: I lost 15 pounds in China last year, and was working on losing some more weight. Then this whole thing happened, and I lost 15 pounds in the hospital because of the gross food and a lot of it was probably muscular loss in my calves since I wasn't able to walk for so long. Over the summer, I didn't eat that much, but I was gaining a pound a day. It was really frustrating to eat vegetables with a little meat all day and then see the numbers go up. I didn't have any sweets because I seriously couldn't go out and buy any for myself! I ended up gaining 35 pounds in a really short span when I was eating only healthy food, but it was probably because I was gaining muscle back. I decided to ditch the scale for the time being. It was stressing me out and there's not much I can do for myself now. When I get stronger, I do need to monitor my weight because I want to do anything I can to help my back!

*Success: I'm able to go out for short outings. This week I went to a local cafe and got some dinner with two of my friends and then we got a foot massage. The chairs are angled, so I could lie back and not be super uncomfortable. Yay! I also went out and tried a new restaurant with Rachael called Chicken and Egg, and then we were able to do something I'd been wanting to do for awhile! We got to go to the Friends Cafe (Central Perk) here in Shanghai! It's modeled after the one from the tv show, and different episodes of Friends play on the tv there.

*Success: All the teachers in my elementary school voted on the "best teachers," and I was voted as one of them. We went to an awards ceremony and I got a certificate, award with my name on it, a small cash bonus, and a Brita. I'm super excited about the Brita because apparently I can fill it with Shanghai tap water, and once the Brita works its magic, the water will be safe to drink. (Realllly though? I'm not sure I fully trust that). I haven't tried it yet, though. 

*Struggle: While it's sooooo wonderful that my wound is closed, there is a big dip in my back where the wound was. Is that going to fill in?? It's pretty unsightly.

*Success: It was Teacher's Day in China on September 10th. I woke up to a bunch of nice messages from my students' parents thanking me for being their teacher. It put a big grin on my face.

*Struggle: I miss my close friends and family in the States. At a time like this when I need help and motivation, I'd feel better if I could be around them. 

*Struggle: Only 1 out of 6 second grade homeroom teachers stayed, so I don't feel our team is very strong. If I were healthy, I could help the new teachers a lot more, but I'm just trying to get through the day, honestly. Work has been a little more stressful for me, and normally it'd be no big deal, but since I'm dealing with health issues, it does really affect me.

*Success: I made it through my first full working week!!! At times, I didn't think I'd be able to, but I did it! I think it helps me a lot knowing that I can, and that I've (barely) got this! :)

*Success: I was able to go on my first nightly outing and made it to a comedy show! The show was only about an hour and a half, but it made me feel more human to be able to do something fun with friends.

Some good news is that there is a Chinese National Holiday this week, so we just have a three day working week. It couldn't have come at a better time for me.

What are some of your recent successes and struggles?

Current Financial State

September 7, 2016
Of course it's not my main reason for being in China, but one of the reasons why I decided to come teach here is because I can save more money than I could being a teacher in the States. My goals for last year were to pay off at least one student loan. Although I put money towards that loan before my emergency spinal fusion surgery, I only managed to knock off a few thousand dollars and did not bring the balance down to zero. I was relying on my end of the year bonus to pay of the rest of the loan. Since I ended up missing two months of work, I lost money from my bonus and had to use the money to pay for my surgery. As frustrating as it is, I'm actually in a worse financial state compared with last year because of the $30,000 I spent on hospital fees. Even though this is a major setback financially, I don't know what would have happened to me in the States. Who knows what my insurance would have covered! I feel like I would have had to file for bankruptcy. I can't say I always had the best experience in the hospital here in China, but I do have to say that being here likely saved me from financial ruin.

Here's my plan for trying to set things right again or at least get in a better place in terms of my finances...

My hospitals in China did not accept USD as a form of payment, so I had to get everything converted to RMB. In the end, I was reimbursed about $17, 500, but all in RMB. The problem is that since I am an American in China, I am only allowed to convert $500 USD per day from the RMB I have. Since going to the bank that much is a bit of a hassle, I decided to just keep the money in RMB all year and live on that. I have no idea how much I usually even spend in one year, but I'm hoping it's less than that amount because it would be great if I could have money left over.

The good news is that I get paid in USD and not in RMB, so my plan is to wire $2,000 USD per month over to my dad who lent me the $30,000 for my surgery. The extra money I have left will go toward two main things: a possible trip to Hawaii and my student loans.

I had planned on going to Hawaii during our Chinese New Year break this year in January, but I don't know if I'll be up for it. I'm really hoping that I am because I've already missed out on so many recent travel opportunities. I will just make a travel fund for Hawaii, and then if I can't go, I can't go. You might thing it's financially irresponsible of me to go to Hawaii when I am trying to get out of debt, and I don't totally disagree, but I have to live.

As far as my student loans go, I applied for Income Based Repayment and seriously don't have to pay more than $30/month on all of my loans. Thanks, teacher's salary in the States! It would be dumb just to pay the $30 each month and stop there if I'm serious about paying my loans off, which I am. The $30 isn't even enough to pay the interest I owe on all of my loans, so since I don't want my interest to keep accruing, I pay as much as I can every month. Nowadays I'm going to continue on paying my loans how I have in the past because I'm actually only accruing interest on my unsubsidized loans. Under IBR, no interest will be charged to my subsidized loans. Naturally, I don't pay a thing on those (besides a portion of my $30 payment,) and I put everything down on my unsubsidized loans. The sooner I can get rid of those, the better. They are just a nuisance that cause me to owe more in my sleep. As for my subsidized loans, they are basically frozen, so they can wait since I'd rather pay my dad back for my surgery.

In Shanghai, stuff can get pricey. A cocktail is about $10 at a decent bar, the food at Western restaurants can get expensive, and a lot of the clothing at Western stores is marked up. One perk about having a major health problem is that I don't go out much, especially compared to last year. Last year, my friend Scott and I would fly to other cities over the weekend, and we traveled every break we got. That's NOT going to happen this year. We have three days off next week, but I'm still not up for traveling. We have a week off in October, but that is still too soon for me. The earliest trip I would even consider taking is to fly to a tropical resort within China over our four day Christmas holiday, and that might be wishful thinking. Since I'm still recovering, I mostly stay around where I live and go to local restaurants, which are way cheaper than the Western places. Don't get me wrong, I still might go out for Western food once a week, but these days that's my big event of the weekend. I'm not a big drinker anyway, but I won't even pay for a glass of wine with dinner because right now I can't touch alcohol. I'm on too many different muscle medications from my surgery, and I've been through so much that I'm not willing to even have a sip of alcohol until I'm off of my medication.

Getting paid at the end of September is going to be nice because I did miss out on five months of pay. At least I had saved some money for the trips I was going to take this summer and had to cancel, so I just kind of lived off of that. I did prepay for some of my flights and a rental car and was able to get partial refunds, so that helped, too.

Another small change I'm going to make to better myself financially is that I'm going to move my savings for retirement into another CD account I found with a higher rate. I'm a little bummed because I wanted to start a Roth IRA, but I found out that you can't contribute to one with money earned in another country.

So far, I think my plan is a good one because it's strict in some aspects, but not overly so. I'm still allowing myself some leeway for traveling, but if I can stay on track with paying my dad back $2,000 USD per month, my debt will be almost paid off by the end of the year. I really think everything is going to turn out fine. I'm just thankful I'm now working in China so that I am able to recover from this financial crisis.

If you have student loans, do you still travel? What's something smart you've done for yourself financially?

Recovering From a Spinal Fusion

September 5, 2016
A couple of posts ago, I wrote about my spinal fusion and decompression surgery. It was getting pretty long, so I decided to break it up and make a separate post about my recovery, so here I am! Just to warn you, this post has some major venting in it.

I left off by saying that the doctors would not release me from the hospital because my wound was not closing and that I was being monitored closely to see if I needed a second surgery. My actual surgery was on May 17th, but at the end of May, I still did not have permission to leave. At that point, I started getting a little depressed. I thought I was going to have to have another surgery, there was no end date in sight, and I was not doing so well financially. It cost me more than $330/night for every night in the hospital, and I had already maxed out my insurance. My doctors told me they wanted me to move rooms to another building. Apparently I was in the geriatrics ward (ha ha...I found that out later from my friend's fiancee who speaks Chinese). My doctors wanted me to move to their ward because they said they could check on me more often and give me better care. The rooms there were about $160 a night, so that would save me some money, but I would have to have a roommate and deal with the hassle of moving. I did decide to move because my doctors really wanted me to. A bunch of friends came over and packed up all of my stuff for me, brought it to the new building, and then helped me unpack it all. I "met" my new roommate who seemed innocent enough at first, but having to share a room with her was utterly horrific. Staying with her was a thousand times worse than sharing with 8 other people in Urumqi. Rachael came and visited me once and was getting so annoyed at how disrespectful my roommate was. She would blast the t.v., leave the light on at night only over my side of the room, scream and shout, and be loud at night. She even stole a roll of my toilet paper! I don't hate many people, but I think I despised this woman at that time for hurting my recovery because she made it so I could rarely sleep! I was mentally and physically exhausted at that point. I begged my doctors to let me leave and go back to the apartments at my school so that my friends could help me more and so I could be in a more peaceful environment, but they said my wound had to be cleaned once a day and riding back and forth in a taxi would be bad for my back. Luckily, my next roommate was a delightful woman who had just gotten hip surgery. She was really polite and her husband even helped me if I dropped something and couldn't pick it up. They smiled at me and were quiet and gosh...having her there was such a relief. 

Meanwhile, my doctors were discussing the possibility of my second surgery with my surgeon. The surgeon wanted to postpone it and give me more time to heal on my own. After weeks of saying there had been no improvement, my doctors finally told me that they saw signs that my wound was starting to heal! They had a specialist come and check it and she suggested that they remove my stitches so that they could really clean the inside of my wound. My doctors didn't want to do that yet, so I just waited in the hospital. 

The good news is that by the end of May I was starting to stand and walk again. I think in the States this probably would have happened sooner because I would have been on stronger painkillers and there would have likely been physical therapists there to push me. I didn't even attempt to get up until a week and half after my surgery because of the pain. I also didn't want to try to sit up or do things on my own with no one there in case I fell or got hurt, so I waited until my friends came to visit me. The first time I stood up on my own, Rachael was there to help me through it. It took forever and I started getting shaky and felt like I was going to pass out, but I was so relieved that I could actually stand again! Slowly but surely, I started walking around my room a little bit and then was able to make it to the bathroom on my own. My life improved dramatically just being able to walk back and forth to the bathroom. Later I got to where I could do laps in the hallway.

In the middle of June, the nurses stopped giving me antibiotics through the IV, and switched my medicine to pills I could take orally. My doctor also removed my stitches. I was getting excited because I thought that meant they were going to discharge me soon, although they didn't tell me that. I just had to get out of there for my own sanity. I was alone for most of the day and looked forward to the evenings because that's when my friends and co-workers visited me. Mainly, I wanted to leave because I don't think I got the best treatment from the staff or from my ayi, although my three main doctors were always kind and professional towards me. 

My ayi could be nice and all smiles sometimes, but I felt like she tried to take advantage of me! At the beginning when I checked in, her supervisor told me her rate. A few days after my surgery, a nurse came in and told me that the ayi wanted to almost double her daily rate because her other patients left and I was the only one there. I informed the nurse that made no sense because she was still doing the exact same job, and I was told that I couldn't do things for myself yet and had no choice but to pay her. I asked my Chinese co-teacher if that was normal, and she said to her it seemed like my ayi was dishonest. One day she also refused to wash my hair (after she had washed it a couple of other times) and told the nurses that she wanted me to hire someone from a salon to do it. That made me seriously mad because that was the main thing I wanted done and I only asked her once a week! I told her that if she wouldn't do it, I would fire her and find a different ayi who could be more helpful towards me. In the end, I think she was okay about washing my hair since I had to pay her double. She did eat some of my food, too. Not the food that my friends brought me, but the Chinese food I was given at the hospital. Every day for breakfast I was given a bowl of noodles and two eggs. Mind you, my friends brought me other types of food, so usually I'd eat something that they brought and have one egg, so I'd tell the ayi that I didn't want the noodles. I'm pretty sure she ate them, but I didn't care because she knew I didn't want them. One morning, I woke up and saw that there were two eggs and a bowl of noodles in my room. I went back to sleep, and the food was moved when I woke up. Then the ayi came and gave me an egg, but the problem with that was that I had no other food...Where were my noodles that I had paid for??! She didn't bring me any and the bowl of them was nowhere to be found, so I can only assume that she ate them while I was sleeping because she thought I didn't want them, but to me that's really wrong because she didn't even offer me my own food.

Also, the nurses in the geriatrics building lied about me several times to my doctors! It's not like it was a miscommunication because of the language barrier between us--these were just blatant lies. Right after my surgery, one of my doctors came in and told me that the nurses told him I was walking around the room a lot. My doctor asked me why I was doing that because he had given me orders not to. When he told me that, I was just in shock because at that point I hadn't even attempted to walk yet and was physically incapable. I told Rachael that, and she just started to laugh because she knew I couldn't even really sit up yet! The doctor also asked me why I refused to let the nurse take out my catheter and kind of lectured me about how I could become dependent on it. I told him that not one nurse even tried to take it out and that the only time I ever saw the nurses would be when I buzzed them to change my IV bags. A few weeks later, again my doctor came in saying, "Lisa, I heard a bad thing about you. I heard from the nurses that you're not wearing your brace when you walk around." I told him that was untrue and that he knew how badly I wanted to get out of the hospital, so I followed his orders very closely. I feel like he believed the nurses and not me. It drove me insane that they were lying about me. I really have no idea why they did...maybe they hated me? I don't know why--I never did anything to them and thanked them for changing my IV. The last time the doctor told me one of those lies, I told him to bring the nurse in who said that because I wanted to talk to her. Of course that didn't end up happening. I don't really like confrontation, but I was ready to confront the nurse that said that about me at that point because I was just fed up.

The other issue I had was about the way the doctors and nurses called me fat. I could understand from a medical perspective if they had said something like,"I recommend that you lose weight to take the pressure off of your back in the future." If only I could've been so lucky. They told my friend Scott that I needed to wear a back brace after the surgery but that I was so big and fat that none of the braces in the store at their hospital would fit me. They told me I had to spend $1,000 (USD) on getting a custom back brace because I was about a 6X. WHAT? Okay, I know I could stand to lose some weight, but a 6X? Really? I asked my friend Kelcey to buy the largest back brace they had in the shop, and she came back with an XL one. Guess what? It fit perfectly and cost $100 USD. I'm so glad that I didn't listen to them. Then, when my wound wasn't healing, I asked my doctor if it was because I didn't have enough stitches in that spot. He said, "The problem isn't this stitches. The problem is that you're SO FAT." Then, his minions (about 7 other doctors/nurses) all burst out laughing. I felt like I was in middle school getting bullied or something and immediately started to cry. I was already in such a bad spot--a little kindness could've gone a long way. I only asked about the stitches because two nurses in the States saw a picture of my wound and said it looked like I needed more stitches. Those are just two examples, but really occurrences like this kept on happening. Normally, I have pretty thick skin (ha ha...thick skin), but I felt like this was becoming almost verbally abusive. This one doctor with a gray tooth kept doing it over and over, even when I asked her to please stop. The last straw was when she told me I had to lie on my back instead of my sides because I was too fat to lie on my sides, even though five other doctors and nurses had said to avoid lying on my back because I was starting to get bed sores. I called her out on her "advice" and when she started calling me fat for like the 20th time, I just said it would probably be better if she didn't come back into my room again. Maybe that was harsh of me, but you know what? I felt way better without her presence! I just thank my lucky stars that my friends, co-workers, and students' parents treated me SO well during this ordeal. They kept me from going insane in that place!

Probably the worst time I had there was when I had the room to myself for one night after my first roommate left. I was looking forward to that night, thinking that I could probably get some decent rest for the first time in a long time since it would finally be nice and quiet. I got up to go to the bathroom, and while I was in there, someone started speaking in Chinese to me through the door. I had no clue what they were saying, but they turned off the light on me and left! I started to panic! I was already very unsteady on my feet and didn't want to try to fumble around in the dark. That could cause me to fall, which could really mess with my recent surgery, as my bones were not yet fused. I yelled for help and no one came. I kept on screaming more and more loudly, hoping someone would come check on me. No one ever did and I got REALLY upset. I think I started having a panic attack, honestly. After screaming for 20 minutes, I very carefully got up and inched my way over to the sink for support. I held onto that and made it out of the bathroom, but I was crying and so upset and enraged that someone (another visitor) went into my room when they weren't supposed to be and took it upon themselves to turn the light off in the bathroom KNOWING full well that I was in there. What angered me the most was what if I had fallen or really injured myself and no one was there to help me? I thought that whole situation was messed up. The next morning, my hospital shoe was falling off slightly and that did cause me to stumble, but because the light was on, I could very easily grab the metal bar in the bathroom to catch myself. I left a voice message to my boss crying saying the hospital was a cruel institution, and I'd do anything to leave it. The doctors wouldn't let me because my wound was still too deep.

Every day (since I started having problems), my doctors came by to change the dressings for my wound. They would clean it, and it was beyond painful. They were pouring alcohol and/or iodine into it and would also cut parts that they referred to as "bad meat" out. I really dreaded when they would come in and do that, but it was necessary.

Since my wound was not healing quickly, they brought in the specialist again to get her opinion. She told the doctors to take my stitches out so that they could really go in and clean the wound. They did that, and then a few days later my doctors told me I could leave the hospital and go back to my school's campus, where I live. I was overjoyed!! After 55 days of being in there, two of my co-workers came and "broke me out." They helped me pack up my stuff and watched as the doctor cleaned my wound. One girl had a short glimpse of it and said it was enough for her and went and sat over on a chair because she didn't want to see it. Recently she told me that it was so deep and that if she looked closely enough, she felt she could probably see all the way down to my spine. A month after I was released from the hospital, my friend's mom who is a nurse in the U.K. saw a picture of my wound and was alarmed that they had ever released me in the first place. She said in the U.K. I would have never been allowed to leave with a wound that serious. What's scary is that she said that a month after I left there!! Even though I probably shouldn't have left when I did, I'm glad I was able to go. My friends were still on campus for a week after I returned, and they visited me a lot. A friend of mine was staying in Shanghai for an extra week, so she was able to stop by after everyone else had left.

My students' parents were very concerned when I said I didn't want to have an ayi over the summer, but my only experiences with ayis flat out sucked. My co-teacher told me that there were definitely some helpful ayis and I just had had bad experiences. One of my student's moms was worried about me and sent her ayi over to help out. At first I was a little wary, but this ayi was from the Philippines and could speak English, so we were able to communicate! After 2 minutes of talking to her, I could immediately tell that she was very kind and truly wanted to help me. She came over for a few hours each day and cleaned my place, brought me food, and washed my hair. Looking back, my students' parents were right...I totally needed someone to help me, especially since all my friends had gone. I did like the idea that she would come by every day to check on me just to make sure everything was okay. The ayi was also able to pick up a few items I needed at the corner store, too. She asked me what all of my favorite foods were and told the cook she worked with to make them for me. My faves were snow peas, thinly cut slices of beef with peppers and onion, shrimp, dumplings, broccoli, and pumpkin soup. My co-teacher joked that I was going to get used to having an ayi as good as she was and said that I would not want to give her up! The ayi helped me for about three weeks, and I really can't thank her and my student's parent enough for their kindness. After she left, another student's ayi came three times a week and brought me food and cleaned my apartment.

Meanwhile, there was another great ayi that works at my school who was available to help me.  I paid her to get me to and from the hospital. I had to go three times a week and couldn't go on my own because I still couldn't walk well and if someone bumped into me at that point, it would have been bad. Chinese public hospitals tend to be crowded and the possibility of getting knocked into is extremely high, so my ayi had to basically guard me from that! Even though I was walking slowly and wearing a back brace and it was obvious that I was visibly injured, she still had to push people from walking right into me. Most of the time it was by accident, but sometimes people just didn't care. My students' parents took me to get my wound cleaned almost every time I had to go. It's really incredible how much they helped me when I think about it. Some of them gave me home cooked meals and brought me groceries.  Sometimes they just visited me. One parent even lent me the entire series of The Good Wife, which helped to keep me entertained while on bed rest. Anything nice you can possibly think of that would help out an injured person was thought of and done by them. They really helped me get through a very difficult time.

For the first month after I got released from the hospital, my doctors and the wound specialist told me that my wound was healing quicker than before and that I was making nice progress. Then that seemed to stop. The top and bottom parts were fine, but there was just a hole in the middle of it that was super deep and wouldn't close. That really affected my life because I could've been out practicing walking, but the doctors didn't want me doing that because they didn't want the wound to stretch and they didn't want me to sweat because bacteria could get in and infect the wound.

I knew it wasn't normal to have such a deep wound months after my surgery, so I went to a private clinic to get a second opinion. That doctor told me that it was infected and recommended I get surgery on it right away so that they could cut out all of the bad tissue. He said that if the infection spread, my whole surgery would fail and that I could get brain damage. Well, that was NOT what I wanted to hear. He ran blood tests on me and he said that all of my results were on the higher end of the normal range, which meant I had an infection but not an acute infection. He said he could do some debridement in his office, but that my wound was so deep that I would need to get an actual surgery, and those were not performed in his clinic. It really was awful when he started cutting out the tissue in my wound. It seriously hurt! He told me to stop screaming and to just suffer though it because it was good for me.

At that point, I relayed all of what had happened to my sister who told my dad. He called me and said he didn't care about the cost and he would do whatever it took to get me back to the States. I told my doctor that I saw another doctor (which he probably didn't like that I did that), and my doctor said that I had no infection and to trust him because he was familiar with my case and that he was responsible for me since the surgery was performed at his hospital. I really considered going home, but the specialist suggested that they put more stitches in. That was not pleasant either. They put four stitches in my back with some kind of thick, non-dissolvable thread. Getting the stitches hurt, and then for the next two days I was in a lot of pain until I got used to them being there. Within a week, there was a huge, noticeable difference and finally my wound had stopped leaking (gross). The four stitches they put in were in such a small area, and initially whoever stitched me up only used about 8 stitches on the whole entire wound!! I really don't think I had enough in initially.

As of now, I still have stitches in, but the doctors said that everything is looking good. I was really put through the ringer with this, and couldn't have been happier to hear the positive report from my doctors.

The best news ever is that I believe the worst of this is now behind me. My road to recovery will be a long one and it will be strenuous, but at least I don't have to worry about acute infections and brain damage from it for the time being!

Have you ever had a complication after a surgery?