Teacher Cheng is GOING BROKE.

More accurately, I’m extremely illiquid at the moment, as one of my American bank cards expired and it’s no longer capable of pumping out a waterfall of pink 100 RMB bills on command at the local ATM.

my new life: saving these 1/10 RMB bills for a snack..

This means I’m reduced to surviving off of the Peace Corps stipend, something like 50RMB ($7.50) a day. Now that the unthinkable has happened (a lot of unthinkable things happened recently!), it’s time to cut back on spending. I’m at the point where every Kuai and RMB counts; here’s how I’m coping:


I had taken the public transportation here maybe five or six times during the past two and a half months. Almost all of those times, I was with a local teacher or some other responsible adult, and didn’t want to be rude and hail a cab for myself while watching the rest of them wait in a long-ass line for the next bus.

public transport selfie! a humbling experience

Now, I’m forced to learn the bus routes (subway still under constriction), and it’s harder than I imagined because I’m still largely illiterate and street/ bus station names are beyond my level of comprehension. The Bus App (车来了) is useless as well; I need maps and colored lines connecting the bus routes from Point A to Point B, not WORDS I CANT READ. Let’s call it a work in progress

Cab prices: 15 – 20 RMB

Bus fare: 1 RMB

Savings: 14 – 19 RMB per trip


Meals with Friends:

Group dinners with the coffee shop gang used to be a 3x a week thing. I would head downtown after class on Tuesdays, Fridays, and also on weekends to join the guys for hours-long hotpot and other fancy dinners.

Typical dinner with friends. the green strips of vegetable hanging from the metal frame are ostentatiously called “fire tree, silver flower” 火树银花
closeup of the glorious fire tree, silver flower. the strips of a dehydrated vegetable, when boiled in the hot broth, have an amazing *crunch*. expensive, but we order it every time, just for the CRUNCH

Hot Pot Dinner: 70 – 100 RMB

Now, if I head to DR.INK Café for the evening, I’ll frequently say I’m *STARVING* and that I can’t wait the 45 minutes it will take for us to head out for a proper dinner, get seated, order dishes, etc. So, I convince the gang to go to the night market around the corner to pick up a noodle stir fry, a wrap, or rice dish. It’s super cheap and the wrap in particular is delicious, but you also run a 25% risk of getting diarrhea half an hour later.

night market around the corner. bring imodium

Night Market Meal: 15 RMB

I also recently moved to on-campus housing, which means I see my students walking around campus all the time now. The outgoing ones are pretty proactive about getting lunch or dinner with me, and I’m genuinely happy to have their company.

one of the cafeterias

The cafeterias are always noisy and crowded, and food is mediocre at best, but they’re also really inexpensive, and it’s kind of fun to get to step into the life of a Chinese college student for an hour or so.

Tina, Maria, Nancy. they are my favorite students- sarcastic, mildly conniving and self-congratulatory, just like their Oral English Teacher!

Cafeteria Meal: 10 RMB

Savings: 55 – 90 RMB per dinner


A self-imposed KFC ban has been the biggest blow to my ego. I LOVE KFC. Maybe it’s the smell of partially hydrogenated oil, or the upper middle class dream they’ve sold to me and a billion Chinese people- either way I love, love, love KFC. I love it when im sober, I love it even more when im drunk. But it’s a luxury I can no longer afford.

My sitemate Bobby and I hitting KFC hard after a night in town

KFC Combo Meal: 30 RMB

DICO’s is the best KFC knockoff, but even that is out of my budget at this point. I’m eating at the lowly ABZ Chicken, which is a knockoff of DICO’s (it’s a KFC knockoff !!! Is that even possible?) the meat is squishy and perpetually pink- in the undercooked, non white-meat kind of way, but its also the only chicken sandwich that fits in my budget these days.

sad sandwich, sad harrison

ABZ Chicken Sandwich: 7 RMB

Savings: 23 RMB


This is probably the most unusual and desperate way I’m trying to save money. I have a habit of buying this very specific type of red watermelon: it is compact in size, perfectly round [aesthetically pleasing], and the flesh is crisp and sweet. Unfortunately, it’s also imported from somewhere far away and expensive.


Red Watermelon: 18 RMB

Now I buy the Gansu grown “seed melon” which is larger with yellow flesh. It’s less round, less sweet, and slimy in texture. But since it’s locally grown, the price is lower than that of the red melons, and im in a liquidity crisis so…

ugh, disgusting

Seed Melon: 12 RMB

Savings: 6 RMB!!!!!! Per melon

Even my foreign affairs rep has noticed the difference in my lifestyle as of late, when he visited my apartment.

Brian: why are you eating seed melon? I thought you hate it



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