Tailors in China: Cheap & Genius

Chinese fashion isn’t for everyone. The clothes and sizes don’t sit right on curvy body types and shopping at Western stores isn’t cheap. During my crafting obsession I somehow convinced myself that I could make myself a dress without a sowing machine and I ordered beautiful material that just gathered dust.

With the help of a Chinese friend, I took it to a tailor along with my favorite dress from H&M. He tutted at my material that he deemed bad quality but promised to try. He warned me that handmade dresses can be expensive, which I expected. I left the nice old man with my dress, the material and just a few days later he told me to come back.

Although he couldn’t work with the material I brought, he picked his own and made me a beautiful, slimming dress based on the original design for just 90 RMB ($13). The dress fits like a glove, the material is silky and I immediately ordered two more dresses and a traditional Chinese blazer!

The price of the dress depends on the materials, so one of the fancier wine-red fabrics will cost 140 RMB ($20) and the intricately decorated blazer made to my measurements will cost 200 RMB ($30). This is way cheaper than anything I’ve ever seen in a store, including at supermarkets (Tesco-style clothing).

So, if you’re at a loss for what to wear in China, don’t fret. Find a tailor, tell them what you want and get forever spoiled with the cheapest tailor experience you’ll ever! By the way, if there are any brides to be, tailor made wedding dresses can cost as little as 700 RMB ($100)… which is crazy, because it can be cheaper to fly to China and had a dress made for you than buying one in Europe or the USA.

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Crafting in China

You may have noticed that I’m behind on posts and I’m very sorry! One thing that China is exceptionally great for is crafting – and that’s what I’ve been busy doing. Materials are cheap, high quality and in cities like Shanghai, there are plenty of opportunities to sell the goods you make.

A few months ago I ordered cute mini cacti on JD as decorations. To my surprise, they arrived as DIY needle felting sets… I had zero experience with crafting but I began to stab that wool and my world changed forever. 6 months later and I spend my days needle felting, regular felting, making dream catchers, earrings and experimenting with resin.

It all started as a fun pass time but everyone kept saying I should set up an Etsy store. Selling things online is the last thing I would ever want to do, but the idea of having a stand a craft fair was exciting! In just five days, I’ll be doing just that – selling my crafts at a three day fair that is expecting to attract 6,000 visitors a day.

Shanghai has frequent block parties and artsy events that you can visit and join. I was really worried about a stand-fee, but sometimes they don’t even exist! For this particular fair, I just had to put down a 500 RMB deposit that I will get back at the end.

I spent a lot of this time was spent searching for the best and cheapest materials online. I found dream catcher hoops for under 1 RMB each, earring hooks for 0.01 RMB (and they don’t even make my ears green) and all sorts of beads & pendants ranging from 0.05 RMB to 1.5 RMB.

It was quite chaotic when I spent about 300 RMB on Taobao to order dozens of ribbons, hoops, felt and earring making materials because it was such a low cost for an insane amount of stuff. It took long hours and many days to get everything made, organized, plan how to present everything and print signs. But it’s all coming together and it’s been one huge adventure!

This weekend I will have 400 pairs of earrings, 15 large dream catchers, 10 small dream catchers, 8 felt Totoros, 6 felt fat cats and whatever else I can make in the next few days. My husband is chipping in with crocheted octopuses and coin purses. He spends about 8 RMB on high quality balls of wool that can make up to a dozen of adorable critters.

Long story short – Taobao and JD are full of DIY packages for beginners and all sorts of wholesale materials for unlimited crafting! If you’ve ever considered trying a new craft, do it in China. It’s cheap, fun and you won’t regret it, I promise. Now wish me luck and feel free to share your crafting stories in the comments below!

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Restaurant Manners in China

A typical Chinese restaurant offers a wide variety of food including tofu in all shapes and forms, at least four different styles of pork, dumplings, rice, noodles, veggies, fish and chicken. When you order a dish, you’ll notice immediately that the portion is huge – that’s because you’re supposed to share everything.

At a typical Chinese lunch or dinner, the organizer/host of the event will order many different meals. These will be brought out in a random order and placed on a rotating table. Everyone gets their own bowl and helps themselves to whatever they like. There is no Chinese saying like “bon apetite”, as soon as there’s food you can just dig in!

It is customary in China to provide your guests with much more food than you could ever eat. If you finish everything in front of you, more will be ordered. Taking leftover food to go is iffy. It can be considered rude if you’re among colleagues, for example, because it’s not fair for one person to take home something that someone else might want. This leads to a lot of wasted food.

When it comes to drinks, there is usually tea and hot water served for free. 2% alcohol beers and low quality Chinese wine is commonly available, however it is completely acceptable to bring your own drinks. We often buy wine, beer or cold water from a nearby convenience store and the locals do it too.

Communicating with restaurant staff is quite different too. It’s completely polite to yell for a waitress to come and to ask for whatever you need without saying “please” or “thank you”. Nonetheless, I’m sure they won’t be offended if you say it as long as you don’t try to tip them. Seriously, they’ll chase you down to return even the tiniest change, so don’t do it.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever experienced at a Chinese restaurant?

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Strawberry Shopping in China

I arrived in China at the end of July with an unexpected craving for strawberries. Several months went by without a single strawberry in sight and I started getting nervous. I had basically given up on ever eating them again, until November came  by and incredibly expensive strawberries flooded the streets.

For the first month, an average of 10 small strawberries cost about 25 RMB ($3.5). Before you call me crazy for saying this is expensive, keep in mind that prices are different in China. 25 RMB can buy you 40 bananas or 6 jian bings (Chinese breakfast pancakes) or 30 eggs or approximately 50 dumplings – you get the point.

December and January didn’t get any cheaper but those delicious strawberries were what got me through the depressing, polluted and freezing winter. Once we finally got used to the expensive strawberries, the price suddenly dropped in February. Suddenly, 25 RMB could buy you 30 strawberries! And it just kept getting better…

Just last week, we let a vendor talk us into buying 3.5 kilos of strawberries for the very same 25 RMB that could barely get us 10 strawberries just 6 months ago. Even though we made 6 smoothies and tried to eat the rest, we still had to throw some away. The moral of the story is that it is 100% impossible for two people to consume 3.5 kilos of strawberries in one go, no matter how strawberry-obsessed they are.

So if, like us, you arrive in China in the middle of summer, stay patient and know that strawberry season will come! If you decide that you can’t afford to satisfy your strawberry cravings in November, just wait until spring. I guarantee that you’ll eat so many strawberries that you’ll never want to see one again!

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Wasting Plastic: China & Recycling

China is ahead of the Western world in many ways but is still trying to catch up in others. Wasting plastic in combination with not recycling may be the most baffling thing about the country that is so desperately trying to improve it’s pollution situation. While China has taken many effective steps to reduce pollution, it could do so much more.

Like most people educated in west, I had “reduce”, “re-use”, “recycle” drilled into my head from an early age. When I lived with my parents, I would get scolded by my father for not taking the paper labels off plastic bottles when I recycled them. He would even scrub every glass , carton and plastic container religiously before recycling.

We were also big on re-using and up-cycling. Our kitchen counter was overflowing with bags that we could use again and again until they fell apart. My impressive collection of pens, pencils and markers was stored in cut and spruced up milk cartons and plastic containers. My father was as obsessed with buying expensive office supplies as he was with keeping anything that could be re-used. China could learn a lot from him…

Chinese stores are obsessed with plastic bags. When you buy fruit or vegetables, for example, you have to beg them not to put each one in a separate bag. If you ask for the price sticker to be stuck directly on an eggplant, they will look at you like you’re crazy. Just the other day, my husband came home frustrated for having to argue with vendors. Isaac managed to save five bags on one shopping trip. What if every single Chinese shopper did that? BILLIONS of bags could be saved DAILY.

Online shopping, which I am addicted to because of my newly discovered crafting obsession, is always bittersweet. Everything is in an individual bag, in a larger bag, covered generously in bubble wrap, sometimes wrapped in cardboard and finally taped shut in a box. Even items that are unbreakable. Every delivery results in a huge pile of stuff that could be recycled but won’t, just because we’re in China.

Fortunately, we live in a small village and a lot of people here are very poor. Some make extra money by collecting cardboard and selling it for pennies. We leave all our re-usable items, cardboard and glass next to the trash and everything disappears immediately. So I guess hope isn’t lost completely, but China could really step it up!

*The photo is from Isaac’s classroom. He’s trying to teach 26, six year old children about recycling!

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Wuxi’s Taoist Temple (Photos)

Wuxi is a great place to visit and explore. On a recent trip to the Cherry Blossom Festival at the scenic Turtle Head Island, we discovered a beautiful Taoist temple! We discovered quite late that we weren’t allowed to take photos inside… but hopefully the Tao gods will forgive us!

 

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10 Stunning African Creepy Crawlers

Bugs and creepy crawlers usually have a bad rep all over the world. People don’t like them because they’re weird looking, have more legs on them than they need and some bite and sting like it’s nobody’s business.

But there are people out there to whom insects and various other creepy crawlers are pretty! For them and those who don’t really like them, BookAllSafaris.com presents 10 stunningly beautiful African creepy crawlers that are will win over your heart.

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Original post can be found at: https://www.bookallsafaris.com/news/african-crawlers

10. Devil’s Flower Mantis

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Binominal name: Idolomantis diabolica

Habitat: Central and East Africa

This stunning creature is one of the largest species of praying mantis in the world. Its most fantastic feature is its capability of mimicking flowers. Because of this, they’re quite hard to spot in the wild. If you really like this creepy crawler, know that it can be kept as pet!

9. Plain Tiger Caterpillar

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Binominal name: Danaus chrysippus

Habitat: Throughout Africa

The plain tiger caterpillar is best known for transforming into the majestic monarch butterfly. But one look at this beautifully colored caterpillar can show that even caterpillars can be impressive.

8. Giant African Fruit Beetle

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Binominal name: Chelorrhina Polyphemus

Habitat: Dense tropical African forests

The giant African fruit beetle isn’t as giant as the name suggests. Actually, an adult female can measure up to 2.1 inches (55 mm) and the male can reach 3.1 inches (80 mm), which for a bug is impressive. As you can see, it easily blends in its habitat, so keep an eye out when you’re on your tropical African safari.

7. Flower Chafer

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Binominal name: Smaragdesthes africana

Habitat: Sub-Saharan Africa

Few beetles are as cute and stunning as the flower beetle. This bug is so popular that people are actually keeping them as “pets”. They feed on fruits and seem to thrive pretty much all around the sub-Saharan region of Africa.

6. Wasp Spider

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Binominal name: Argiope bruennichi

Habitat: North Africa

The wasp spider may look a lot like a wasp, but its bite is not at all threatening to people. In some areas of Africa, the venom from this spider is actually used as medicine. Feast your eyes of this little guy if you happen to see it on your safari, but don’t touch it!

5. Rainbow Milkweed Locust

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Image source: Victoria Rivas’ Flikr

Binominal name: Phymateus viridipes

Habitat: Southern, Central and East Africa

This may be one of the most beautiful locusts ever to grace the face of the Earth, but it is poisonous to animals who eat it. Because it feeds on the milkweed plant (which is highly poisonous) and other toxic plants, the locust has also become poisonous. The bright colors are saying just that: stay away, I’m deadly!

4. Rainbow Shield Bug

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Binominal name: Calidea dregii

Habitat: South Africa

Can you believe that this stunning bug is considered a pest in Africa?! The bugs feed on Jathropha plants, which are used to produce biofuel. Well, alternative fuel is indeed a priority, but this cute piece of rainbow bug needs to also life its life!

3. Smurf Bug

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Binominal name: Eupholus bennetti

Habitat: Rainforests of Papua New Guinea

Smurf madness seems to have reached Africa! Actually, the bug has been a regular in the rainforests of Papua New Guinea. Named after famous naturalist George Bennet, the Eupholus benetti’s color is a strong warning to any predators, as the bug is very bitter to taste!

2. Spiny Orb Weaver

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Binominal name: Gasteracantha cancriformis

Habitat: South Africa

No matter how much you hate spiders, I truly hope we can all agree that this is one cute spider. The spiny orb weaver comes in a variety of combinations of colors: red, black, yellow and white. Make sure you snap a photo of this tiny arachnid for the folks at home to admire!

1. Kirby’s Dropwing

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Binominal name: Trithemis kirbyi

Habitat: Throughout Africa

This gorgeous dragonfly is present all throughout the African continent! You’ll be sure to spot it, regardless of your location, whether you’re on a desert adventure or a jungle safari, the Kirby’s dropwing will be at your service!

*unless stated otherwise, all photos are taken from Wikipedia

Keep your eyes peeled when you’re on your next African safari! Who knows? Maybe you’ll meet one of these 10 colorful creepy crawlers!

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Why are there Daily Fireworks in China?

At least once a day I jump out of my skin, sometimes spilling coffee or tea, because of sudden machine-gun-sounding fireworks. These fireworks have nothing to do with holidays and don’t happen at night, so you can barely even see the pretty colors. So why would Chinese people waste their money on day-time fireworks? Many reasons, apparently.

Traditionally, the fireworks were made by lighting bamboo and the loud noise would scare away evil spirits. Even today, the purpose is the noise not the visual which is why they are set off during the day. Some reasons to set of loud fireworks include weddings, funerals, the opening of a shop or the start and completion of a large project.

Since Chinese cities have such dense populations, you can imagine why these fireworks happen at least once a day! I think the record for me has been four scares-by firework in one day. You get used to it, but sometimes it still catches you by surprise. Like when you’re running for the bus and they start going off 3 meters behind you. Does me being scared of them make me an evil spirit?

For store openings, the fireworks are obviously set off in front of the store. When it comes to weddings or funerals however, it can be done wherever. Unfortunately people’s top choice is usually the courtyard of large residential complexes. I happen to live on the 4th floor of a 17-floor building and my badly-insulated bedroom window faces the courtyard. A firework wake-up is very unpleasant, believe me.

Due to the large amounts of people traveling with fireworks, certain safety regulations are in place. Any time you go on the metro, for example, you have to go through a metal detector and your bags are scanned. All fireworks that are found, are confiscated. In case this isn’t enough, many public areas are plastered with “no fireworks” signs.

I am not quite sure about the regulations for fireworks in large cities like Shanghai or Beijing, but in our little town no one will stop you from setting them off whenever or wherever you want. That’s why you should always expect fireworks. After all, jumping every time you hear a loud noise makes you uncool!

Do you have any funny stories about getting scared by unexpected fireworks? Please share in the comment section below!

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Kubuqi Desert Adventures, Inner Mongolia (Photos)

On our weekend trip to Inner Mongolia we got to explore the Kubuqi desert! We actually thought we were going to see the Gobi, but apparently that’s only in Mongolia (Outer Mongolia). Whoops! Despite the mix-up, a desert is a desert and this one was gorgeous! We took the tour with Anda Tours: http://andaguesthouse.com/

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Where to Ride a Camel in China?

Camels are fascinating creatures that can live off grass, survive extreme temperatures and they are absolutely adorable. They seem to be quite popular in China since you can ride them at most large zoos and even in the most unexpected places!

We once saw a camel dressed up all fancy right outside of our local supermarket. Have I mentioned that we live outside of Shanghai in a tiny economic development zone? Basically, it’s the last place you’d expect to find a camel and it is certainly not an ideal spot to ride one.

While the camels at Shanghai Wildlife Park are cute and cheap to ride, for a more authentic experience you should head over to Inner Mongolia. It’s a fascinating place to explore the grasslands, visit the desert, sleep in a yurt and drink horse milk, just to mention the most popular activities.

A lot of the tours from Hohhot, the capital of Inner Mongolia, are ridiculously expensive and not worth it considering the time it takes to get to the desert from the city. This is why we went with Anda Tours, organized by Anda guesthouse a.k.a. the best (and only) hostel in Hohhot. Everyone there is extremely helpful and will make you feel right at home!

The camel riding tour costs 660 RMB for the lunch and transportation +150 RMB for the camel ride 460 RMB (+150 RMB) each. The tour does involve a lot of driving, but it’s 100% worth seeing the vast desert and experiencing activities like strenuous sand-sledding. If camel riding is not your thing (in which case I’m surprised you’re even reading this), there are plenty of other exciting tours.

The camel riding time varies depending on the season from 15 minutes during scorching summer to an entire hour during the freezing winter. We went in early April and had perfect weather for our 20 minute ride.

Our large group had to be split in half since there were only seven camels. After the ride we got to take photos and all of the camels were extremely photogenic and friendly! I stuck my face about a centimeter from the camels nose and he didn’t even try to spit on me – which happened to me in Egypt…

Anyway, our trip with Anda Tours was a wonderful and unforgettable experience that we would definitely recommend! Everything was amazing, from the filling lunch to riding in the back of a bouncy desert car to get to the camels. In between camel cuddling (riding) and sand sledding, we got to meet some friendly locals that shared their roasted ram with us and gave us free beer!

For more information, visit Anda’s website: http://andaguesthouse.com/

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