Tuesday, July 31, 2007

And today we learn even more...

OK seriously, how much can one really learn about renting an apartment? Apparently a lot.

Today we called a women that was mentioned on what is fast becoming our favorite source for information on Xiamen, http://www.amoymagic.com/. Their forum has been incredibly helpful and yesterday I emailed the girl that they recommended for apartment hunting. She showed us a few places and explained some things. She moved here from Hong Kong ten years ago and understands most of the questions foreigners will need to know.

Today's lessons are as follows:

1. They will charge more if you are a foreigner, as you must be able to afford it. Even when they barter down you will still be paying more then a local. The just presume that your company covers it. Damn GE and Dell....

2. There is a 17% addition if you want a receipt and therefore pay the government taxes. Locals don't pay it but they recommend that all foreigners do. Yet another unexpected cost to pop up...

3. If the apartment is furnished you will usually be expected to pay a two month security deposit instead of just one.

4. Most places do not have hot water in the kitchen, the heater only feeds the shower and bathroom sink.

5. Most places do not have heat, air conditioning is still a new luxury and heat hasn't been added.

Crazy, we only asked about heat after she mentioned that the water in most kitchens is not heated. Again we are left wondering what other questions we don't even know to ask...

Monday, July 30, 2007

Language Classes 101

It's been over a week since we have arrived here in Xiamen, China and we are happy to report we now have enough words to be able to eat in a restaurant. Yesterday's culinary treat was a family style Chinese restaurant where we were able to pick our food. Many restaurants in Xiamen, allow you to meet your food before having them for dinner. Word to this wise, don't start giving them pet names, or it will be hard for you to digest them.

We were enthusiastic to share our wealth of knowledge in speaking Mandarin, which was quite limited and Mark's colleagues were more than happy to oblige in teaching us more Mandarin. We can now order rice both white and fried, shrimp, fish, duck, chicken, meat (not sure what kind of meat), beer, ask for the toilet, dinner was good, and request the bill. What we can't do, it appears is find an apartment that we want.

On another note, I am looking into classes at Xiamen University. John, this is the Yale of China. How cool will that be to have that on a resume? Education - Xiamen University, China.
Will keep you posted.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Quest continues.....

The quest for finding a new home is still ongoing. Sunday we had the opportunity to see one of the nicest places yet, and no the picture isn't the condo we were looking at. Kevin, one of the managers here at the Crown Plaza had purchased a condo last year and is looking into renting it. Since his marriage, he has been living with the in-laws. The idea was to rent the condo to "foreigners" since according to Kevin we are neater and a cleaner group of people. I've seen some apartments back home and I wouldn't necessarily agree with that statement. My guess is that he believes he will get more from foreigners than he would from the Chinese.

I digress, okay, so the condo had quite the security system, Bose speakers, flat screen TV, all new and updated furniture, two balconies, three bedrooms. Each room had all their wedding pictures bolted, and I mean bolted to the walls, which means we were stuck with this couple staring at us in every room. So, what's the issue besides the pictures you ask? Well, if you recall from our earlier entry in our blog, we were originally quoted one price, which was to include all utilities and you can guess pretty much what happened after that. Yup, utilities were not included, nor the management fee. We had asked if there was room to negotiate, but Kevin didn't want to go lower than the original quote. Oh well, did we really want to look at this couple every waking moment? So, the hunt for the elusive home is still on.
Look at it this way, it could be a lot worse, as you can see from the picture, many people have it much worse, and this is one of the better apartments that we've seen since moving here.
P.S. For all of you who have been IM'g me, thank you and its great to hear from you and keep me abreast of what's happening back home. It's very much appreciated.

Instant shade

Today we purchased ourselves some happy umbrellas to help with the heat. Almost everyone here uses umbrellas to provide them just a small patch of shade. It's amazing that it does help just to have that little bit of protection.

Not much else going on this weekend, we toured a little and spent about 3 hours walking up into the new downtown. We stopped at a little restaurant that didn't have the nice pictures that we almost came to expect, so we didn't really know what we were ordering. They sent over the one man in the restaurant that knew any English and he tried to help us. We ended up getting a fish that was just doused with hot spicy peppers, it was excellent. We flipped through our translation book to find "chirder jern syung" which is "That was delicious." They couldn't quite understand us, so when we pointed to the Chinese symbols and asked the waiter how to pronounce it, he just read back the English to us "delicious". Ah, thanks for clearing that up for us.....

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Baby's Forgotten Birthday

It's pretty sad, when the hotel remindes you that it's Mark's birthday. We came in after our usual happy hour(s) to find that there was a cake sitting on the table. Thinking it was a sweet gesture from the hotel since we're staying here for two weeks; only to find that there was a birthday card wishing Mark a happy birthday. Pretty sad when we both forgot it. Okay so I'm a bad wife but he didn't remember it either so I don't feel that bad.

Friday, July 27, 2007

All the wine in China...

Wine is apparently not something that the Chinese are overly familiar with, as Chinese wine is terrible. The hotel had a tasting of American wines last night and all of the wines that they import are the wines that you buy off of the discount rack at the supermarket. Their top end was the Kendall-Jackson, you know those $10 bottles that you only open after you've already had two good bottles.... Tina tried to convince one of the importers that they need to import some better brands and wines and his answer was a quick "No, we import too many bottles now." Yeah, that's the way to grow your market...

So, we met another couple who have been living here for 6 months and yesterday the woman took Tina to the Metro and, of course, Tina came back loaded with all sorts of items. Wine, glasses, tea cups, notepads, everything we didn't realize we needed. But now we know where to get good meats and cheese, and the women that she went with have promised to show Tina all the places on the island to get great deals on everything one can imagine. Should be fun, it sounds like DVDs for the latest movies go for about 40-50 RNB, which is 6-7 dollars. I'm thinking that's what everyone gets for Christmas, DVDs with Chinese captioning...

As for the continuing apartment hunt, nothing new. We've been told that we can barter them all down, so maybe we try that with one of the really nice places that we've seen. Yvonne at the hotel has connected us with one of her friends and we are going to see his apartment tomorrow afternoon. Hopefully this is something that works for us.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

More Lessons

Woke up and it was a beautiful sunny, clear day, figured that I would take a picture of the harbour and the statue of Koxinga, who was a pirate and a politician, and happens to protect the seas (according to the locals here). As I was taking some pictures, I heard voices speaking very loudly on a bull horn, little did I realize I was taking pictures from the Chinese naval base. Okay so I'll admit not one of my more brilliant moves, but the pictures turned out nicely.

During our daily happy hour on the 2nd floor, we met some more people who were also living here and working with our friend Roy and the Mexican. (my new name for him, since we never got it in the first place, or perhaps we did but it was many tequilas, and vodkas later). A very sweet couple who have been here for the past 6 months. They too gave us some helpful tips and tomorrow we are going to the Metro (German version of a Sam's Club) Hey Lisa T..you were right, I am making friends. Their advice was everything, and they meant everything is negotiable, even the dept stores where you can negotiate the tax. The second thing that we learned this week and was confirmed by our new friends is that the Chinese lie a lot. Not that it is a bad thing here, as the Chinese do not like confrontation, but also they do not have the guilt that we have back home. When confronted they just laugh. It's a way of live and as long as they do not lose face, it's all good. A little frustrating for us, since it is hard to distinguish the reality of the situation. Such sheltered lives we've lead.

The Mexican recommended a great restaurant that overlooked the harbour, and had asked if we liked Chinese food. No actually we don't....uh, hello, what country do you think we are in? The view of the harbour was spectacular and the meal including two bottles of Tsing Tao was $12.00. Yup, it's going to be hard to buy dinner back home at Keefers or MK again.

Today's lessons were:

1. Don't take pictures near any military base especially in a communist country
2. Everything is negotiable
3. We like Chinese food

Wednesday, July 25, 2007



So despite how busy we have been being entertained I have also taken time to add our calendar to the side bar.

Because so many of you told us that you would come over and visit once we get settled we decided that we needed to put something in place to keep track of when we are expecting visitors and also when we are planning on traveling.

So yes, the plan is that we will keep this updated and that people are free to look and see when we are free here in Xiamen. Tell us what time frame you are looking at visiting and we will block it out in the calender, that way we shouldn't have 3 groups all coming to visit in January trying to escape the cold....

Then again, none of this will mean anything is we aren't able to find a nice two bedroom apartment where we have room for people to stay.

Continuing fun....

Yes, so this will be more fun then one would have ever expected. We looked at some more apartments today, and still we are having some problems in being clear as to exactly what it is that we are looking for. We explained the area that we were looking into and what exactly we required. Size, building age, location, cost, with that we thought we were covered. Today we get information that they have new places to show us and that they want to show us these today, not wait for after the weekend as we originally requested.

Ok, so we go and look and from the start is seems promising - newer building, right area - oh, wait - how much was your maximum? Yeah, these were beautiful because they were out of our range. Then in continuing our learned practice of asking the same question several times we find out that you also have to pay the building management fee on top of the rent. So now some of the ones that seemed nice from last time are now just out of our budget. And China is supposed to be inexpensive?

That, and they keep showing us apartments that are in buildings that are still under construction. This hardly seems legal, but people are living on the 24th floor while the 20-23 are still being completed. Very strange, but at least all the appliances are new.

The last thing we learnt today, after now figuring that we need to have 4 months rent, plus now money for building fees and all of the utilities is that you will also need to pay the agent that helped you half of the first months rent. So, it's appearing that we will need to have close to 5 months rent on hand, in cash, just to get into an apartment.

Good fun, and we are learning lots. Hopefully soon we can actually get a night off to wander the streets and spend some down time of the city. Really, we hope to have some pictures soon....

Monday, July 23, 2007

Apts.com HELP!

Today we set out to find a new home, here in Xiamen. Our entourage consisted of Rocky who is our contact here in Xiamen, Rachel who flew from Shanghai, the Real Estate agent, Mark , myself along with the leasing agents showing the properties. It seemed to be a little on the overkill side ,but hey were in China. We started off with 2 apartments which ended up being the nicest out of the 7 that we viewed. The second apartment was quite lovely with views of the water, balcony and had two bedrooms. The other apts gave us insight has to how some people live and it ain't pretty. From the blogs and books that we read, we were under the impression that the utilities were included in the rent. When that question came up, the first response was yes, and then 2 apt showings later the answer was no that utilities were separate. (the people who work at the hotel later told us you can negotiate this in the rent) We learned that the Chinese will say yes first and then give you another answer later. After seeing the a few others, we had to tell the agent again, our specific requests for a new dwelling. We were looking for new buildings, (the older ones, were dirty, dark, old and the shower head came up to Mark's chest) near a grocery store, gym and perhaps near the expat area. The agent advised that there were no apts available in this area yet 20 minutes later he produced three for us to see. Granted they weren't anything we would live in, but that wasn't the point. We looked at a service apt and it wasn't bad except it was a one bedroom apt only and we needed something a little bigger for all of you folks coming to visit us in Xiamen. We asked about laundry and a 20 minute conversation ensued between our entourage. A simple yes or no would have sufficed. The answer was no there were no laundry facilities but they have someone to pick up your laundry each day and send it out.

At the end of the day, the conversation turned to payment methods and come to find out that not only did we require one months deposit but also need to pay three months in advance. This is typical when renting in China or at least Xiamen. What Mark and I found odd, was the fact that we researched information regarding renting here along with reading books on moving to China and not once did we ever read the deposit requirements on renting an apt. Note to all who write about living abroad in China, big piece of information that you may want to include in your books. After discussing payment we were also advised that we would need to pay three months in each time, which we later found out that wasn't the case.

Okay so lets recap our lessons today:

1. Yes does not always mean yes.
2. Don't necessarily take the word of one person, ask many
3. Renting an apt? Make sure that you have at least 4 months worth of rent on hand in CASH

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Favorite Pastime

Today we decided that we would start investigating our surroundings. We found out that we are staying in the old downtown, which consists of very few expats and mostly Chinese so the buildings are older and more run down . There is still a lot of poverty even though you see construction everywhere here in Xiamen.

This afternoon Rocky took us shopping in another area, where they would like us to stay. The Sheraton which is a 5 star hotel also has apartments and thought that this may be a good choice for us. There is a lake called Yundang Waihu that runs through Xiamen and as nice as that sounds, we come to find out that the sewage runs through the lake starting where this 5 star hotel is located. No thanks, besides we actually like the area that we are staying currently.

Rocky takes us to the SM mall where apparently out of the 3 million residents, 2 million are shopping at the SM. This mall is so busy, that there are times, you are not allowed in until shoppers have finished and this is by no means a small mall, we're talking at least 5 floors and a block in size. The 2nd floor was designated as the electronic/phone shop. We need cell phones and thought this would be quick. Ah, nope...there were hundreds if not thousands of phones with many styles and companies not available back home so a decision was made to research before purchasing since the ones that we want were quite expensive. They have the ability to translate Chinese characters to English. A must have since we are not fluent in Mandarin just yet.

We later met a man who has been living in Xiamen from California for the past three years. He is staying at the Crown Plaza in one of the suites. Very informative and gave some advice. Here it is:
1. You will get sick.
2. If you really are ill go to Hong Kong.
3. You can work on a F visa.

Yup, this will be fun

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Fun in China

Tina wasn't able to add the photo because I hadn't downloaded all of them yet, and she was in a hurry to post something. In her posting we learned something interesting, we can log onto blogger.com, and we can create and view our posts, but we can not view the blog itself. It appears to be blocked for those here in China, which explains our low visit count.

Ok, so we flew into Xiamen today at 1400 and settled into our hotel. Rocky, one of the guys I will be working with picked us up and explained that they have some apartments for us to look at on Monday so it seems that everything is moving along smoothly. We did dinner with Rocky and another guy and they also helped Tina learn to say "woo tian boo dong" with the proper accent. Now she's happy that she can say "I don't understand what you're saying."

Rocky also found the the pronunciation guide in our handy translation book was incorrect and took it upon himself to write the proper spelling in for us.

Tomorrow we will take a tour of the city and start to get some feeling as to what area we would like to live.

It's hot and muggy, as I think we knew but still more then we expected. Today the high was 98 (37) and right now at 2230 it's still 87 (31). Humidity is at a mild 70 percent.

Farewell Dinner

Well so much for thinking that the Cubs game would be a viable option. We hit the ground running at 6:30am and finally had time to relax around 1730. It's the little things that one doesn't of that end up taking most of your time such as banking (yea, you actually need money when you move) mail, movers, take the cable box back etc etc.

Heather and Mike met us for some champagne before we headed out to the final farewell at Sushi Mura. It's one of our favorite local places, and the sushi is very fresh plus, the fact that we can bring our own wine without paying corkage fees also helps and it's two blocks from our condo. We closed the place down, which which should tell you what the our night was like. But to give you a detail or two we went out to Que Syrah to pick up wine to have with us in China, and we ended up drinking it at dinner. We probably, no we actually drank more than we ate so if anyone who was at dinner forgot what happened that night we have pictures to remind you. Mark and I want to thank everyone for joining us in our last dinner in Chicago.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Final Day

Wow..Its been quite the whirlwind over the past 6 weeks, sometimes frustrating, sometimes overwhelming, mostly excitement. We just returned from the East Coast where we caught up with family and friends. It was wonderful to see everyone again, and the highlight was the clam bake that Mark's mom orchestrated.

We had to finalize the packing as the movers were coming by 8 am. The decision was, what to take immediately and what can wait approx 3-4 weeks. Alas, the wine would have to be shipped, and no Emily, sorry to disappoint you, but there were no boxes of wine, only bottles.

We are hoping that once the movers come and claim our belongings , we should be able to breathe a sigh of relief. I'll keep you posted on that one. The rest of the day will be finalizing any outstanding items, and dinner with close friends. If we have time perhaps one last Cubs game.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Day After Jim Plunkett

The good news is that we were able to walk off the boat after a Jim Plunkett show. The weather was a balmy summer night with a nice breeze. Boston is absolutely beautiful from the Harbour. We had a blast and realize why he has such a following. Once he started, everyone went to the top to see him perform and now I understand why you hear of boats tipping over. It was a wee bit scary, but once you drink one no longer has worries. Jim Plunkett came through the crowd to have pictures taken with him, and hubby decides that it would be sweeter if we had Jim take our picture instead. He was most obliging. It was great to catch up with friends and we finished the evening at Seaport, where Mark decides that he wants his picture with any women who is looking at him or is breathing..

Today's agenda looks like this:

Wake up


Hong Kong to have some Scorpion Bowls (apparently requires two people to drink otherwise they will not sell it to you)

Fenway to see the Jays whip the Sox

More drinking

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Final Farewell Tour

This is the final trip before we leave for China next week. This week we are in Boston, two weeks ago we were in Canada visiting my family and friends. Yup a lot of Jagermeister was consumed, mostly from my father....okay and Mark and fun was had by all.

This week its the Wichmann family and Mark's friends. We are here to see with the exception of my good friend and internet preacher, Mel. (She married us last year on Apr 1st). We are staying in Boston until Sunday and then off to Lenox to visit Mark's family. Tonight we are attending a Jim Plunkett booze cruise which means no one will get up before the Jays/Red Sox game tomorrow. If you have not heard of this man, check out his website. http://www.jimplunkett-music.com/
According to hubby, no one walks out of his bar/cruise sober. I'll keep you posted and there may be a picture (depending on how bad we look!)

Friday, July 6, 2007

Getting Closer...

Another to do item off the list. Put the car on Craig's list last night and had sold it for a nice stack of cash by 9 this morning. Less then 12 hours.....

I'm loving the Craig's list.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Happy 4th of July

Today we move ever closer to our final move date, and still we have almost nothing packed and ready. This weekend my brother is coming out to take most of our living room furniture and Tina's friend is taking her bedroom set, so that will leave us with only our clothes and some simple supplies to move. We should be done with that packing by the end of next week and then the majority of it will be on a boat bound for China. Next weekend is Boston, a trip to Fenway and then home to see the family and then we return for two last nights in Chicago before we fly out.....