• Tag Archives Shenzhen
  • Dutch Flower Town

    I have been wanting to plant and grow some culinary herbs since I tend to use a lot in my cooking. In America you can easily get herbs at reasonable prices fairly easily, but it’s not easy here for several reasons. The most obvious reason would be the language barrier, but the herbs I use are Western, which are not typical in Chinese cooking. With one exception, coriander (cilantro) are available anywhere there are vegetables being sold.

    I had seen some dried herbs at a few stores that stock many import products; however I was not happy with those prices. Asking around to other expats and some Chinese friends didn’t yield much, but an acquaintance did suggest the Dutch Flower Town, though she was unsure of where it might be. So I did some research and found that there is a flower market a few blocks north of Micah’s work. We thought there was a good chance that it was the Dutch flower town. Our original plans got delayed when I came down sick, however we went the next weekend.

    The overpass boundary, covered in vines.
    The overpass marking the farthest north I’ve been and separating the two areas.


    It was beyond hot and humid, almost oppressive, but the sky was beautiful. For a quick, easy, and cheap lunch we went to McDonald’s and then proceeded to walk the few blocks to the park where the flower town was at.

    One Step Farther From Home

    Once we passed the intersection right north of Micah’s work place, we reached the farthest point north I had ever been on foot. The fact that this “line” was at an intersection of major roads was actually inconsequential, based on functionality. North of the intersection the area didn’t seem to be particularly useful to me as it didn’t hold many shops or stores. It was really interesting to see the difference in our surroundings once we passed under the highway. The highway that crossed the northbound road went over creating an underpass covered in vines and a path for pedestrians to safely cross. It’s really interesting to live in a city that hasn’t been specifically designed for pedestrians, but still facilitates walkways and paths for safe and relatively easy commuting on foot or bike.

    As we stood under the overpass, we couldn’t help notice that the intersection seemed to mark more then just the crossing of two roads—it also seemed to be the border between two distinct areas in the city. The difference between the two sides is fairly noticeable.

    On the south side, you can see a very prominent bustling, urban center with skyscrapers on either side of the road held back by a row or two of trees and bushes. Nature still holds a huge part in the area’s atmosphere. However, on the north side it is less developed, I suppose, because of the park and similar areas which all create small wooded areas. On this side, it is rather cement and fences that seem to be holding back nature from overtaking the pedestrians.

    On the way we pass some girls in short flowy skirts who are selling flower hair bands with long ribbon tails and some men wearing aprons selling street food. The whole sidewalk has been squished between overflowing nature on the left and the line of trees on the right (between us and the road); so when the sidewalk ended at a plaza our line of sight completely opened up revealing the plaza on the other side of a descending road into an underground garage. In the center of the plaza is a display of a Dutch wooden shoe and windmill letting us know that had arrived.

    Behind the windmill is the large gate arching over the enterance with a clock tower over it.
    There the gate behind it the windmil.

    We crossed the plaza to look at a very unhelpful map—we couldn’t even find where we were and I’m pretty sure the roads weren’t even in a correct orientation. Behind the center piece stretched a gate with the sign which read “Dutch flower town”. The first thing I noticed as I approached was that we kept hearing a recording played repetitively in a short circuit. I’m always a little weary to approach recordings just because I can’t understand the Chinese on speakers and do not wish to go anywhere I shouldn’t. Though Micah figured out it was from the guard tower advising visitors to have good behavior. This seemed to be verified when we found a much more helpful map of the area with a long message about following the rules.

    Finally! A helpful map!
    Finally! A helpful map!
    The message on the map encouraging everyone to have good behavior.
    The message on the map encouraging everyone to have good behavior.
    A section of the middle stretch inhabited by a large painted cow.
    A section of the middle stretch inhabited by a large painted cow.

    Running straight back from the arch was a strip of green, trees, benches, and décor running down the center of the main stretch. On the right and the left were two or three cafes interspersed with small shops jam-packed with curios, special succulent pots, various decorations, and several small plants. They were all cute, small and crowded. Chinese are great at making the most out of a space; it’s actually an incredible skill to see.

    The place looked temporary almost like a fair or expo with huts and small buildings that are simple in their construction. Though you can tell it is more of a permanent place.


    We started out by looking at the row to the right, but quickly saw these were more curios and gifts, which probably didn’t have what we wanted. However, a few yards down we saw several alleys running deeper between even more small buildings spilling over into the alley with flowers and plants.

    There were shops with many of the same plants and planting supplies, however there were also several unique shops and plants. Somewhere in the middle of the town was a beautiful garden area with lattices overtaken with flowered vines. The roof was completely covered over which created shade for the interconnected maze of walls and scattered benches. I think it was more crowded inside the shade than outside. Most of the people were young Chinese people who, as a past time, love taking selfies in beautiful or unique areas.

    A row of small simply built, and very crowded shops.
    A row of small simply built, and very crowded shops.
    The other row of cute shops on the other side of the main walkway.
    The other row of cute shops on the other side of the main walkway.












    Now for the Hunt

    A shop over flowing with beautiful flowers and plants.
    A shop over flowing with beautiful flowers and plants.

    The more we walked the more we uncovered small alleys with crowded small buildings overflowing with flowers and even some trees spilling out into the walk ways. It was absolutely beautiful.

    My plan of action was to take my list of desired herbs which I had written in Chinese and English and go from place to place asking if they had any of the listed plants. After about four or five places I found basil and rosemary. Feeling positive after finding these two plants, we continued on shop after shop after shop with no more luck. Along the way I did buy a few pots but didn’t even find any seeds.

    There were quite a few shop owners that could speak English and towards the end there was several Chinese (and maybe a middle aged Japanese woman who spoke great Chinese and English) that tried to help me. They had a hard time trying to figure out what the remaining herbs I wanted was; but they couldn’t quite understand the difference between mint and basil and oregano. The Chinese for these were very similar which created even more confusion since they are from similar plant families. But they sure did try. It was an odd mixture of Chinese, English, and Chinglish. I really enjoyed the encounter, because the women were so upbeat and determined to solve this problem. We all had our phones out using the internet with translators and dictionaries and even some pictures. In the end, they concluded it was a lost cause to find them in the little flower town but wished me luck none the less.

    Another quaint shop with overflowing flowers.
    Another quaint shop with overflowing flowers.
    Another quaint shop with overflowing flowers.
    A very crowded shop with hanging and stacked flowers out front.

    Since there was really just one more alley we hadn’t gone down, we finished the remaining alley and headed out of the flower town to head back home. By the time we got home I was exhausted from the walking, the sun, the heat, and my burden of a few pots, two new plants and the first sunburn of the season. Though, despite not finding all the plants I wanted and being so tired it was a really good day at the Shenzhen Dutch Flower Town.

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  • Living with Epilepsy in China


    Epilepsy is often caused by electrical disturbances. (Image source: aboutmodafinil.com)
    Epilepsy is often caused by electrical disturbances.(Image source: aboutmodafinil.com) 

    Imagine that you are walking down the street when your thoughts suddenly become sluggish and thick like feet walking in a muddy creek bed. Then you realize you can’t feel much of your body and the edges of your vision are beginning to slide into a gray fog ever so slowly. You take a breath to calm yourself, but something else, something other than your own mind hijacks your thoughts and an icy panic runs up your spine, while the world around you begins to tilt and turn like a twisted, tormenting theme park ride.

    This is what the beginning of a seizure feels like, at least some seizures for some people, like myself. For me this is normal. While I can’t say you ever quite get used to the confusion, the fear, the pain (both mental and physical) and the hijacking of both your mind and your body with varying levels of awareness, I can tell you that it is a struggle that I am well equipped. I have lived with seizures all of my life and have seizures nearly every week (sometimes more often), even at 29.

    There are many limitations to having epilepsy or other seizure disorders; however, the challenges and the limitations take a different turn when one moves to a foreign country. My husband and I have been living in China for 2 years now. China is a wonderfully vast country full of cultural idiosyncrasies, interesting foods, an old culture, a complicated people, amazingly beautiful lands, frustrations, joys, wonders and even mysteries. I love living here, but it is often a minefield rife with dangers for someone like me – someone with seizures.

    The triggers, my mines

    One of the most common triggers (things that cause seizures in those who have seizure disorders) is flashing lights. This is generally called photosensitive seizures, meaning you are sensitive to light and, in this case to light patterns. So I have to be extremely cautious walking around popular squares or areas of cities at twilight and nighttime; because if there is one thing China likes it is anything that will get your attention. Rapidly changing and moving

    The district we live in (Nanshan, Shenzhen) at night. (image source: www.flickr.com/photos/johnas/9650254268)
    The district we live in (Nanshan, Shenzhen) at night.
    (image source: www.flickr.com/photos/johnas/9650254268)

    images on huge LED screens liter these common areas and cause me a plethora of issues. These can range from a severe headache to twitching/spasms to even a full seizure all dependent on how much light directly catches my eyes and the duration of exposure. Adding to these mines, there are often string lights or runner lights that are flashing around doors or signs for shops, hotels, stores, restaurants, and other misc businesses that would like to have flashy neon adverts.

    Another trigger for me is crowds and lots of chaotic noises. I know, I know, most people ask me, “Then why in the world did you choose to move to China of all places”?

    es it is true that China is often perceived as being the motherland of chaotic crowds and the cacophony of noise they release, but the simple answer is that it’s not like that everyday everywhere. I came from a small area with a low population, but even there I sometimes had to worry about crowds like in crowded restaurants or special sales at superstores. Or even in day to day living at busy universities. You can’t escape crowds if you want to be a part of a society at large and not live on a farm in isolation.

    So I adapted and developed a strong fighting spirit along with a keen sense of observation. With a world so full of dangers in the environment around you and inside you, at all times you must be sure of where the safe areas are, where the exits are, and possible aids (i.e. something to drink, dark places, quiet places) and learn a great deal of physical discipline. This is how I walk through China in my everyday life. I step around crowds or focus on counting my steps so my brain is occupied and, therefore, less able to take in bad stimuli if I have to go through crowds. I wear headphones a lot so that outside sound is muffled or my music drowns it out.

    Epilepsy Stigmas in China

    You might ask, “Could you ask for help?” The answer in America and other countries is a hesitant “yes,” I could, for the most part; however here in the East there is a rather strong stigma that pushes those with seizure disorders to be silenced. I learned very quickly through experience and reading other people’s stories online that I must keep this a secret or risk some fallout. The stigma can range from fear of it somehow being a contagion that could be inflicted on other people—which elicits fear and sometimes verbal violence—to being a symptom of some kind of darker psychological disorder hinting at possible dangers or violence everyone around.

    Other stigmas from less developed areas revolve around seizures being some kind of trick or punishment from an external source such as spirits, karma, or even bad luck. Thus, if you are being punished by some higher power, then you have done something to warrant this and should be given a wide berth.

    Madness, possession, contagious disease, cosmic punishment, psychologically disturbed, irreparable human, mistake, broken, reject, and subhuman are many of the labels thrust upon people with seizures in this society. They are often told they should never marry nor should they hold a job. And of course, children are out of the question.

    The isolation and sadness resulting from the stigma in China is disheartening.
    The isolation and sadness resulting from the stigma in China is disheartening.

    People diagnosed with epilepsy, before marriage, are often denied marriage certificates. Often people are fired if they have a seizure at work. The person or even family members are often shunned and ignored in their own neighborhoods. If the one suffering from seizures is a child, many other parents will not allow their children to play with “those children” for fear of some sort of damage or repercussion falling on their children.

    I have been lucky enough to not have anything but minor seizures out in public or make it back to my apartment in time for a larger seizure. I have to be careful of not getting overheated or overly tired, and I have to be careful about the foods I eat too as some chemicals (MSG) and foods (pork for me) can worsen or even cause seizures.

    I am truly blessed because I grew up with parents that were patient and loving even in the grips of a child suffering from a disorder they didn’t understand well. However, many children and even adults here in China do not have that same level of support. Orphanages here are filled with children who have various disabilities or disorders; they are thrown away for falling short of “perfect.” Teenagers and adults are often sent away or kept in seclusion and denied even the basics of a proper education.

    Recently, there was a man in Hubei who was sentenced to a life in prison after a seizure resulted in a fatal car crash while he was driving. Yes, he should NOT have been driving, that is undeniable, but he will never receive treatment, support, or good medicines in prison. This is an example of how China deals with “disruptive” disorders, they tend to put you somewhere and ignore you in hopes the problem will go away.

    The Hope for Seizure Disorders in the Future

    There is hope for the future of epileptics and other disabilities in China.
    There is hope for the future of epileptics and other disabilities in China.

    Now please don’t think that things are hopeless, because they are not. In the last 8 years, China has made some remarkable strides in trying to get more information out there about seizure disorders for public consumption and to delineate disorders and disabilities. There are disability groups and agencies that are popping up all over China and some colleges are now trying to aid students with special needs. Though, I admit the progress is slow, but it is wonderful and heading in the right direction.

    I would like to end this blog about living in China with epilepsy by explaining that while life for me is limited and often more difficult than some people, I have more freedom and independence here than I did back home. Things are more closely placed here and the public transits are remarkable. Back home, we had lots of land so everything is so spread out that walking is not feasible. Public busses were unreliable and often not running, subways didn’t exist and taxis were too expensive if you can even find one. In China, I am able to go anywhere I want, when I want, and how I want. For the first time in my 29 years of life, I am able to taste what being an independent adult tastes like and this is one of many reasons I feel freer here in China than in America despite hiding my “dirty little secret.”


     Note: This blog was submitted to another expat blog as a guest blog. You should definitely check out her blog, because it is awesome! I would also like to thank Amanda for her help and also the suggestion in writing this blog.


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