We've been back in China a little over two weeks and I know that everyone is curious to see what we have been up to. The internet has been particularly tricky lately so it has been a struggle to update this blog.
Bonus though, this time you get a couple videos to see a blip of life in China. I apologize in advance for my lack of camera skills, I can't afford a Go Pro..




In case the video doesn't play here are the highlights:
1-We made it back to China with minimal frustrations/problems
2-We buy baodzi for breakfast
3-We head to church
4-My video skills suck. I'll record in landscape from now on.



Now that we have covered basic health info in China, the next thing you might want to prepare yourself for is the food.
#1-see previous post.
#2 Bring your herbs and spices.



Xi'an actually has an excellent selection of fresh produce but there are a few common American flavors that will be hard to find.
-Taco seasoning or basic Chili powder is something that you'll want to bring if you are a fan of Mexican food. You'll also want to get a basic recipe for making flour tortillas from scratch because tortillas are only available at international food stores.
-Some Italian seasonings are hard to find. I found Basil easily but Oregano and Thyme have eluded me up to this point.
-Spaghetti sauces tend to be too sweet for my taste so I've started making my own from scratch. Canned vegetables are also very rare and expensive, but remember fresh produce is cheap and easy to find.
-If Ranch dressing is your equivalent to ketchup, then start preparing yourself now because you will NOT find anything resembling it in mainland China. Luckily you can get Hidden Valley Ranch powder and bring it with you! Mayo and sour cream are harder to find but not impossible so you can make your own salad dressing or I like to just sprinkle it onto fresh veggies for a snack.

I've been able to find most other spices that I use regularly with the help of my Chinese dictionary and often asking strangers for help but I'm grateful for the gifts of spices I received from my friends before I left.

My list of must haves:
*McCormick Italian Seasoning blend
*Hidden Valley Ranch Powder
*Cinnamon
*Nutmeg
*Pumpkin or Apple Pie blend are good for pancakes, oatmeal and cookies.
*Garlic powder **I think I could find this but its more common for Chinese people to just use fresh garlic**
*McCormick yellow Curry powder **I found a McCormick yellow curry powder here but it didn't have the same flavor and was too spicy.**


What CAN you get in Xi'an?
PRODUCE-As mentioned earlier, fresh produce is easy to get and very cheap. Onions, potatoes, garlic, green peppers, cabbage, tomatoes, fruit, cilantro, green beans, broccoli are just a few of the items that are always available.  Vegetable and fruit stands dot every corner as well as in between. MISC-Salt sugar, honey, baking powder, corn starch etc are also available in many places.


STREET FOOD- There are dozens of varieties of street food in Xi'an. Street food is very cheap but often too spicy for me. If you are sensitive to MSG, be selective on what you buy from street vendors. I was a bit underwhelmed in coming to Xi'an because I thought the mediocre Chinese food back home would pale in comparison to actual authentic Chinese food in China. Unfortunately things like fried rice and sweet and sour pork are exactly the same as back home in the US. China loves the 5 spice blend including some of these spices; cumin, star anise, fennel, ginger, cloves, sichuan peppers, and Chinese cinnamon.  They use the 5 spice blend on nearly everything. If you don't like spicy food then the first phrase you need to learn is 不辣 'bu la' (boo- lah) meaning not spicy. Or 'bu yao la'. I do not want spicy.



Baozi
Xi'an is well known for noodles and you can get many types of noodles from street vendors. Steamed buns with meat (baozi) are one of our favorites.



I made these jiazo
Dumplings called jiaozi are also very popular. These are similar to ravioli and you can get them with different types of meat and veggies. I like mine pan fried rather than boiled.





WESTERN FOOD- McDonalds, KFC and Pizza Hut are popular in Xi'an. It is fun to see the unique dishes designed for the Chinese palate next to the most common western choices, but you'll pay more to satisfy your Bigmac cravings.



DELIVERY-depending on what part of the city you live in, there are many places that deliver. McDonalds, KFC and pizza places are common deliverers as well as local Chinese fast food places. The challenge is navigating the ordering and delivering system since it's in Chinese. We get pizza delivered from a place called l'aquolina nearly every Friday but it's only because the website is in English! Haven't figured out how to get Pizza Hut to deliver yet.




In my time here I have only found a few dishes of authentic Chinese food that I enjoy. A little shop near my place sells lamb meat noodles that are really good and down the street I can get baodzi that are pan fried so they are crispy on the outside instead of soft and I really like those.

Lamb Meat noodles and chow mein












Pan fried Baozi
 Xi'an is also famous for 'yang rou pao-mo' a lamb stew with dense dried bread.
Lamb meat stew with bread. A traditional Xi'an dish

Hot Pot- A method of cooking that is very popular.

Beverages are really boring here. I've only seen 3 types of soda Coke/Pepsi, Sprite/7Up and Bing Feng-Orange Soda. Red Bull comes in a tiny fat can and is not carbonated. Water, however, is super cheap.

Lastly, coming from a super individualized setting such as the US caused some frustration early on in China. Try as I might, I have found that customizing your food order cannot be done. Even simple things like "No lettuce" on a burger just doesn't make sense to people here. You want to add something extra to your entree- forget it. Perhaps it's simply my lack of Chinese language ability or perhaps it is a cultural thing but whatever it is, we've gotten better at just picking off things we don't like.


Thanks for your patience regarding this recent blog post. As I previously mentioned, life has become the consistent repetition of day to day tasks and while some might enjoy my musings of watching 'My Little Pony' on Netflix for the hundredth time, I'm guessing most of you can live without that.




I thought I'd compile some important information about surviving China. Whether you plan to move here or just visit, these tips will really make a difference in your ability to enjoy your time in this interesting place.

#1- Bring your meds! 

While China does have pharmacies that dot every corner, it may be a bit tricky getting what you are used to AND in the dosage you want. Most medications are actually available over the counter in China but many of the things we Americans pump into our body on a regular basis may not be available in the dose you want.

A MUST HAVE is Dayquil/Theraflu/Mucinex etc. I honestly thought that my stellar immune system would destroy foreign germs and maintain my highly reinforced health security system. For anyone who knows me, I maybe get sick once a year, but living in China has shown me just how inferior my system is. While the pollution in Xi'an isn't as bad as in other cities, I was still surprised at just how big of an effect it has had on my respiratory health. I'm constantly fighting off sore throat after sore throat with coughing and headaches too.

Here is my list of must haves:
*1 bottle of acetaminophen (Tylenol).
*1 bottle of Ibuprofen.
*1 giant box of emergenC.
*2 boxes of Theraflu
*1- bottle of Midol *seriously, best pain med ever*.

-If you are into more natural products, peppermint and lavender essential oils are great. Breathe by DoTerra is one of my faves as well as On Guard by DoTerra.
-I was surprised that we haven't needed much for upset stomach problems but some Pepto, never hurts as well as anti-diareahha meds are good to have on hand.
*Icy Hot or my personal choice Deep Blue rub by DoTerra for muscle aches and pains has been a life saver for all the walking you will do or just normal stress and tension from life.
*An ace bandage or compression wrap. This is just good to have in general. Remember, you will do a lot of walking.
*Any prescription meds. Try to get a 3 month supply. If you have to take meds for diabetes these may be hard to get. Also meds for anxiety and depression are very hard to get, so do your research before hand and bring what you can.
*Anti-itch cream like cortisone etc. Insects aren't a huge problem in Xi'an but we do have a lot of mosquitos in the summer. Tea-tree or Melaleuca oil is also great for this.

So What CAN I get in China??
VITMAINS-If you take regular vitamins you can get all of the basics here. * I don't take vitamins but I have seen them in pharmacies. Most of them have some English writing too so you can be sure to get what you want.
COUGH SYRUP- There are a few types of cough syrup that are similar to Robitussin that you can get for really cheap.
KIDS MEDS- I've been lucky that my daughter hasn't been as sick as I have been. However, China has many products for kids and the boxes usually have little cartoon babies on them. With a basic translator app, you ought to be able to get simple meds that are safe and cheap.
ANTIBIOTICS- Like most of the world, you can get antibiotics over the counter in China. Do you research before hand and pay attention to dosing guidelines. Many antibiotics come in very small doses. This is a big difference from what you might take in the US.
ASPIRIN- you can get this anywhere and it is stupidly cheap. I think I paid around .25 cents US for a box.
ESSENTIAL BALM or Feng you jing 风油精- Whatever magical combination China puts in to this stuff it is awesome for those pesky mosquito bites, aches and pain, headaches and more. It comes in a tiny bottle and it costs around .50 cents US. Its basically a combination of menthol, eucalyptus and probably melaleuca or lemongrass but it was far more effective than when I used those essential oils independently or mixed together.

Be prepared
China has a unique and vast history but one assumption I made incorrectly was that they were advanced in medicine. Hundreds of years ago Chinese medicine was far superior than other forms of medicine at the time. Unfortunately, due to issues like government regulation or lack thereof, education, etc., medicine in China will NOT resemble the miraculous healing we may have seen in movies.
They do drink a lot of tea and teas are used for many internal issues but the most common remedy offered by people is to drink hot water.
If you speak Chinese and want to go to a traditional Chinese doctor you will find that they are skilled in assessing the body and will likely recommend herbal or diet plans to help you.
Most 'western' doctors tend to be more specialized in a specific area of the body. However, treatment of health problems in China is much different than in other places.

While China does have nationalized health care, the way care is delivered is very unusual. Nurses in China only take your vitals and dispose medication. If you have to stay in a hospital for any reason you must have your family or friends prepare your meals, change your linens, bedpan or bandages, and provide your general care.
China takes a more holistic approach to health care. Many people pay very close attention to what they eat and most people get some form of physical exercise daily. There are public workout machines in most apartment communities for people to do sit-ups, stretches etc. You will often see people dancing in the mornings or evenings as well as playing badminton or other games.
Even with public transportation, people still walk everywhere.

Unfortunately for all of this, China has some misinformation that has been perpetuated throughout its history and also has some significant gaps about ways for treating disease in general.
Women still treat their menstral cycle in ways that basically require them to stay home for a week or avoid regular activities.
People really believe drinking cold things is bad for your health and hot water is offered at every restaurant. Most beverages are served at room temperature and unless you go to a western restaurant you will not likely see ice. Chinese people are VERY hydrated. They drink water constantly and it is usually hot.
Mental illness is simply not treated here. There aren't many specialists in mainland China that even study psychology or know how to treat things like depression and anxiety.
Breaks and sprains are often treated with reudamentary bandages and casts. Not like the common plaster casts we see in the US.
Going to the doctor is very inexpensive and medicines are very cheap or free if you have insurance. If you use insurance it is different than in the US because it is more like a membership card at a specific location. You cannot go to any pharmacy and use your insurance to pay for your meds. Typically it will cover you at certain hospitals and in order to get your meds free, you must use your insurance at that hospital. Records are also nearly non-existent. At least for foreigners. If you take a medication regularly you must see a doctor every month and get a new prescription each time. Prescriptions are not refillable like they are in the US. They also don't keep a file with your passport information and insurance information like we would in the US. You have to bring it every time.

People have very little knowledge about basic anatomy especially bruises, abrasions and sprains. Muscle and joint issues are also generally unknown or at least ways to treat problems associated with them.
Basically if you have a mediocre knowledge of basic health you will probably be just as well to avoid hospitals and doctors altogether in China. Treat yourself at home with good old fashioned rest and soup.

Massage Therapy and other alternative therapies.
Massage is another thing that you might want to be aware of. There are may massage places in China but they differ from western massage. In more touristy spots be aware that many massage shops are places of prostitution. Surprisingly if a business advertises child massage, this is likely a legitimate health massage. Swedish style massage with oils is typically only offered at high end spas or in hotels. The cost of these can be quite high. Typically Chinese massage is done fully clothed and you can pay by the amount of time or more commonly the area of the body that you want massaged. It is not as easy to find full body relaxation massage as I had hoped.
China follows the 'no pain, no gain' method. This type of massage is typically deep with a lot of pressure. If you are a tender client I suggest avoiding this type of massage. Bruising is a common side affect of Chinese massage and most people report soreness from the massage up to a week after the session.
Cupping is another common practice here. It involves placing glass cups on the skin of the client and heating them. This causes the air pressure inside the cup to change and creates suction. This too results in 'suction bruises' that can last up to a week.
Acupuncture is also a common practice here. Rarely are visible side affects common. This is one therapy that I really want to try but have not done so yet. Communication makes it a little tricky and there isn't an acupuncturist near my apartment community.

What about breathing masks??
Pollution in China is something you should be aware of and using a mask that filters the air you breath is one way that many people avoid illness. I have conflicting ideas about masks so I will leave it up to you to decide. Carbon filter masks can be very advantageous in filtering out Particle matter that is 10 microns or larger. You can get these on Amazon before you come to China or in various places once you arrive. However, I feel masks may not do as much as the placebo effect we get from wearing one. In order to really filter the air you breath you need a fully sealed military grade respirator.  otherwise the unfiltered air just comes in from around the edges. Medical style masks are available everywhere for very cheap and cloth masks are easy to find as well. Cloth masks don't do much beyond keeping your face warm but on chilly mornings it is a nice addition to your outerwear. Masks are useful at eliminating the spread of illness, however. Many people will wear thin medical masks if they have a cold or any type of infectious disease to ensure they don't "share" their germs.

**NOTE- nothing in this blog post is designed to treat, diagnose, or otherwise provide medical advice in a formal fashion. Always seek the advice from your healthcare professional. Don't be an idiot and do things simply because they are on the internet***


Thank you for your patience on this recent blog post. The Holidays were filled with so many wonderful events and memories! We started our celebration with a fun Christmas program at school

Decorated a lovely Christmas tree that we ordered from Taobao. Scored this baby for $2.50 USD





 Baked some yummy sugar cookies!


Rachel made this adorable nativity out of clay! She's so artistic.



We had a Christmas market to make crafts and raise money for charity!


She's so creative she can make a Christmas star with her eyes closed.


 Then we had a great time at the Xianease sponsored red carpet Christmas party.

One of our Year 10 students, getting ready to rock their band performance!





Rachel enjoys her Chinese class so much she had to get a picture with her teacher Celia to my left, plus my sweet friend Snowy teaches math and of course no 9th grader can resist photobombing.




Lovely ladies! Sharon who keeps the secondary school running, Karen provides specialized instruction in the Primary, Ronna teaching reading skills and Snowy again.




Kennedy and his sons Collins & Levi with Korai in the middle. Kennedy teaches technology and design and Collin and Korai are Diploma students and Levi is in primary.




Michelle got her hair done for the occasion. She keeps the main office together.



Michelle, Ronna and I




Gorge and Marietta. I love my Colombian comrades. 
They both teach primary and are wonderful friends


This year we also got to surprise my family and go home for Christmas. 

We left on December 14th and flew in to Spokane Washington. We spent a week in Moscow with Tony and then drove down to Blackfoot so surprise the family.


Leaving Xi'an


Freshened up in Seattle and grabbed some Wendy's. Even treated a couple of returning missionaries by buying their lunch. First taste of America was a delicious baconator!


Beautiful Washington state!


Best picture of the trip. Tony carrying the doll and holding Rachel's hand at baggage claim.


True love!


Let it Snow!




Beautiful Idaho winter!


Enjoying an excellent burger with a law school friend. David!

At the end of the week we drove over to Coeur d'Alene to surprise Aunt Ang!
Little did we know she was going to surprise us with some exciting news!


Stuffed our faces with BBQ!



Relaxing and watching Die Hard- A Carlson family tradition!

Finally we were on the road home, first stop grandmas!


This is how we roll.



Incredible drive down from north Idaho!




And the fun begins.

My cell phone video skills need improvement but the feelings are wonderful.








Surprising everyone was so much fun. We had a wonderful holiday!

Sofi and Conan



Took miss P. to church.



Sweet friends like Lynette





The girls!


My littles!


Connor


Piper


Sawyer

And a lovely overnight getaway with my love to Jackson Hole





All in all, it was an incredible trip where we made wonderful memories.
After a month back in Xi'an I already miss the snow but check out the fun we had for Chinese New Year!