Friday, August 31, 2007

When it rains it pours

My down time is coming to an end, and I cannot tell you how excited I am knowing I will be busy for the next few months. There is an International school that is interested to know if I would like to be a substitute teacher and I received a call today from Siew who owns the coffee and wine store we mentioned earlier to check my availability. She was inquiring as she had some future students who wanted to learn English. She has lined up 2 Chinese business men, 1 Chinese lady, and 3 children that were interested in learning English. When can I start she asks? I tell her I will know more once I get my class schedule which would be on Sept. 17th. Siew insisted that I meet with her today to work out the details, the timing, place, rates and so on. She's like my personal business manager. I wonder if she wants a cut..

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Happy Days

Today I headed to the travel agency to book our flights to Hong Kong for next week which is over by the expat area of Xiamen. Once that was completed I decided, it had been a long time since we had a good cup of coffee and wandered over to Coffee Time, which apparently is the hot spot in this area. The place was completely full at 10:30am. Don't these people work? As I was placing my order I happened to notice that they had baguettes, yes my fellow friends, French baguettes. I thought it was a mirage, but it wasn't. Not only did they have them for purchase, this restaurant also has their own bakery, where you can purchase these wonderful delights. You think I just won the lottery. Emily you can cross that off your list.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Continued work on my stupidity....

When we took our tour of Xiamen on Saturday I casually mentioned how I had deleted all of our cable channels and our guide offered to help us out. Today she sent me the following e-mail:

For the cable TV, you can call 968810 and follow the instruction given to reset the channels. But it might only be answered in Chinese. Or you can try the following steps but I don't know whether or not it is really workable.

1) Press "menu" button of remote control
2) "Screen system setting" - press "confirm"
3) "System parameter" - press "confirm"
4) Key in password (1234 ?) - press "confirm"
5) "Channel searching" - select and press "confirm"

Yes, I would have been able to do that had the menu been in English. But then I wouldn’t have gotten into this mess either.

OK, so I go to the babelfish translator and type in just the buttons to get the following:
1) 菜单
2) 屏幕系统设置- 证实
3) 系统参量- 证实
4) 证实
5) 渠道搜寻- 证实

Easy right? I then have to transfer this into a notepad to take to the television, and then I start to try and undo all that I’ve done….

Actually not too bad, the first two are easy to find. The third step doesn’t exist as translated, maybe different wording. A few guesses and we are on our way, the television starts reprogramming.

So, now we have cable back and we can happily watch our one channel of Chinese controlled English news.

And, I’ve been banned from touching the remote…

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The little wins in life

Do you remember when you were a kid and your parents always uttered those famous words.."respect your elders?" Yea, sometimes it's a little difficult to do that here in China, especially when these little old women want to cut in front of you. It happens just about once a day, be it in the stores, or trying to get on a bus, grabbing a taxi, you name it someone is usually cutting in front of you, and generally it's an older person. Go figure. At times comical, today annoying.

Today, I wanted some vegetables to make a salad. Picked up a nice balsamic vinegar and olive oil from this little store that Edlin recommended. I decided that a nice salad would do for lunch. Off I go to the market. I was next in line to get my vegetables, waiting for the person in front of me to finish weighing his fruits. This little old woman of about 65 tried her hardest to walk around everyone and cut in front of me from the other side. Ah.. but I knew what was coming and with lightning speed, I plopped my greens on the scale, and then the tomatoes,onions, peas, and cucumber. She conceded defeat and then gave me the look that says, hey you can't blame me for trying. No, no I can't.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Grocery shopping in China

Let me walk you through my experiences of grocery shopping in China. What you think may be child’s play is not so here. Obviously language being an issue, so one must inspect or smell the item to determine the contents.

We are restricted in our list as we do not have anything to cook with at this time, and personally speaking even if we did, I am not sure it would make that much of a difference. Not just due to the lack of our culinary skills, just because we wouldn't know what to do with most of the food that we see here.

Grocery List:

Okay, you would think that this is simple…or is it?

The fruits and vegetables are fairly simple and many look like items we would have back home, though the types of salad greens they have don’t look that healthy, but we figure that’s because we are in China and things are a bit different. After you pick your items, you weigh your purchases and move on, except here in China, everyone wants to be first in line, and think nothing of pushing you out of the way as they are really big with being the first in line. You give them a look that says I can’t believe you just did that, and they give you a look back that says, what’s your problem?

We move along as I need to get salad dressing. There is a wall with 10 shelves, that has nothing but Soy Sauce, and some vinegars but absolutely no salad dressing. People gaze at this, like they were purchasing fine wines. They take their soy sauce very seriously here. There were a couple of red wine vinegars. Edlin tells me the art of finding decent vinegar which by the way we didn't find. She turns the bottle over, and tells me that you need to look at the sediment on the bottom. If there is sediment, than don't buy it. We tried 4 and all appeared to be bad. The last one leaked on my hands, and smelled like very bad red wine. I think I will forgo the salad idea, I tell her. Edlin knows of a better place to get vinegar and will take me their on another day. Guess what Emily?

Next stop is for milk. You head over to the refrigerated section to find yogurt but no milk. Odd you say? Yes, yes, it is. It is on a shelf in a box, which would seem odd, but it is vacuumed sealed, and once opened you put in the fridge. Your options do not include skim or 1 or 2% milk. It's by name brands and the only recognizable one is Nestle. Apparently it tastes similar to the milk back home. Mark didn’t think so.

Then we see potato chips and figure let’s check this out. Interesting flavours here. One can choose from red meat sauce, to cucumber flavour, or chicken flavor. They even have chicken drum stick flavour Cheetos here. No barbecue, or salt and vinegar chip, though I did pick up the cucumber flavour and will report back to you on that.

Lastly, I headed over to the bread section. I have been unable to find good bread here and thought Edlin may be able to shed some light. She tried. Okay back home, we get whole wheat, 7 or 12 grain, white, bagels, croissants, rye bread etc. Here you get sweet, sweeter, or sweetest. The long French baguettes from home are now just a distant memory. Everything is stuffed with something sweet in it. You think you are buying rolls, or baguettes but nope, you get desert with this to whether you want to or not. Guess what your are bringing Emily?

It’s a sad day, when I ask Edlin, is this good and her reply is, ah, it’s not so bad. Back home you would say, it’s good, or delicious, here when someone says it’s not bad, you buy it.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Weekend in pictures.

This weekend, finally only a few things that we needed to complete, and we could actually wander and relax. Took a tour with one another ex-pat, and learnt a few new things about where to go. Also, she showed us a dentist and which hospital to go to in an emergency, that alone made it a good tour.

Other than that, today we walked and took a bus back up by the collage. Enjoy some pictures....

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Now with more stupid...

So, I'm playing with the television again, trying to figure out how I moved the one English channel up to the front of the list. So, I find a control page that looks good and I click on "删除渠道" and the English channel disappears. OK, it's just scrolling through the channels - I'll click on all the channels until it resets. Huh, all the channels are gone and it didn't reset, I guess I better write down what I was hitting and ask someone what it means.

What does it mean? Ah, that's "Delete channel". Good, so once again we have nothing to watch. Stupid.

KTV with a Kraut and a Kiwi

Ah, the wonder that is KTV in China. I sure you haven't all heard my story of going to KTV on my first trips here, so let me just summarize that it's a bar where you go to sing Karaoke. A lot of the people who come over on business trips are taken out to a KTV bar by the sales team from the local suppliers. You get a room that has a TV for Karaoke and then they parade about 30 women into the room and you pick one to stay with you and make sure your beer glass is always full. Then at the end of the night, if you want the girl is yours to take home. At least that's what I was introduced to in Nanjing.

So, last night we went over to the bar in the ex-pat section and were talking to the waitress who's picture we put on earlier this week when two guys from the table ahead of us turned around and started talking to us. They were nice, a German and a New Zealander who have been here about 4 years each. They explained the area, how to say words, and then took us to a Scottish pub in a totally different section of Xiamen. Overly friendly for westerners, we wonder how long it will take us to change into that....

After the Scottish pub, which wasn't Scottish other then Asians in kilts, when we walked out and they suggested some of the more Chinese bars down the street. Sure, why not? Off we go to, yep you guessed it KTV...

These KTVs are different, think strip club. They're set up with a stage in the middle and people sitting at the bar around the stage and in tables all around the room. I mention what I know KTV to be and I'm told "Oh, that's Mandarin KTV, there's no nudity in Xiamen they're not as fun here." It's like a talent show where people buy lei's and flower baskets for the performers, which then then turn in for cash. The first group was a three girl singing group, then a single girl singing, the a guy playing a sax, then a girl in a little school girl outfit. "Looks like a stripper" I commented, and guess what? She ended getting as close to nekked on one could.... Then what could only be called a duet of Asian Elvis's, or are they Elvii?

Yeah, that's when we left. Time to go home, but we learnt some new bar areas and added to our United Nations of acquaintances. We've now got a Mexican, a Kraut, a Kiwi, two Puerto Ricans, two Malaysians, an Aussie, a Canuck, and a Yankee that we can call up to go out with....

Friday, August 24, 2007

Waiting in limbo

A crazy, rushed limbo, but we are waiting in this middle ground nonetheless. By that I mean that although we are residing in Xiamen, we aren't yet really living here.

We still don't have any of our belongings, which is our pictures, books, DVDs, pots and pans, the rest of our clothes, sheet, towels, and that case of wine that we miss more every day. Based on the last discussion that I had with the movers this week it is looking like we should have our stuff in another 2-3 weeks.

With our initial visas we had to leave China every thirty days, which is why we were in Singapore last weekend. When we go to Hong Kong in two weeks to get new visas, hopefully they will issue ones that allow us to stay in China for 60 days at a time as opposed to only 30 days.

Because our shipment is not here, we need to eat out for almost every meal. That isn't a great as it sounds; the earliest I'm home is 19:00 so we don't usually go out to eat until 20:00, by the time we are done it's 21:30 so straight home to bed since I need to get up at 06:00 the next day. I know, I'm shell of my former self, but before I relied on sleeping past noon on the weekends to recover.

More of it is just that I need some down time, considering that we spent our first two weekends running around looking for an apartment, and then a weekend running around shopping for items we need and don't have and for items we have but can't wait another month for them to arrive, followed by last weekend when we were out of town. So, I haven't had that basic let's just spend a day doing nothing and relax moment and you don't realize how much you appreciate that.

Tina has the opposite problem, in that right now she has too much do nothing but relax time, and you all know that's not something she can take in excess.

I'm thinking that by the end of next month we will really start to settle into a routine and then we can relax and take a look back at everything we've gone through in the last two months. We should have our belongings, Tina will be getting into a regular schedule again by going to classes, and we won't have to be worried about where we are going to go in three weeks. The nights won't seem so rushed, the weekends will be a little less hectic, and we will start to enjoy Xiamen and everything it has to offer.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Universe works in mysterious ways

At dinner yesterday evening, Mark and I were discussing our next weekend jaunt to Hong Kong. The usual conversations ensues, where do you want to stay? how many days would we require as have to apply for visas again? what did you want to see? and when did we want to go? We originally wanted to leave around the 3rd week of September, but with my semester starting on the 18th we needed to be back by the 18th, so we figure we would go the weekend before. That's settled, or is it?

During the meal, Mark says, maybe I should look at my visa, I think it expires the end of September but just to be sure. Wouldn't it be funny if it was the beginning of Sept? Yea a lot of laughs, honey. Well I go and take a look today, and guess what? The visa expires Sept. 7th.

Apparently we are going to Hong Kong in the next couple of weeks.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

These boots were made for walking...

We all remember Full Metal Jacket, right? That opening scene in the second half when they are finally in Vietnam and we see that one girl walk up to the soldiers with the sultry ass wiggling walk while Nancy Sinatra plays in the background?

Well that scene, or that song seems to play in my head once a day, at least when we are walking around the city.

The way a large portion of the women in this town are dressed is nothing but a copy of that scene, the short shorts, usually a small top, and high heels. I don't know the exact cause of it, but they also all have that little swagger to them, I'm thinking that it's a mix of the heels and the rough uneven sidewalks.

So that seems to be the style here, and I guess that I understand it as it is hot and humid here so shorts and a light top make sense. It just seems that they go a little overboard when dressing for the weather. That and the style does seem to favor a lot of sparkly clothes or accessories...

This picture is of one of the waitresses at a local bar we were at a few weeks ago. She's dressed fairly conservatively, but we decided to try and get a picture of her in the background while we were taking picture of ourselves in the bar having drinks.

She wouldn't have any part of that, no she decided that she wanted us to take some pictures of her and she would pose for a picture, tell us it wasn't any good and then pose again. She's really a sweet, friendly girl and we enjoyed talking to her and having her help to teach us more Chinese.

It's still just that every time I see this look it cues the music up, "You keep saying you've got something for me.....'

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

It's been a very long time....

...but I am up for the challenge. I have just been accepted to attend Xiamen University. Yup, I am going to be a student again. Who would have thunk it? The course will be a long term Chinese program which will include oral and written Chinese with many optional classes starting the middle of September. I am looking forward to having some structure in my life again, and learning the language properly. Not to say that the sightseeing and shopping haven't been fun, more than I am craving something more substantial. I know crazy isn't it?

Em, when you come to visit I may have to drag you to school with me, perhaps you can learn some phrases as well? Yes all, we have a winner...Emily is the first person coming to China to visit us. Both Mark and I are looking forward to having you as our guest.

Don't worry, there will be a list of goodies for you to bring but we promise not to overburden you. I do think you know what our first request will be....

Sunday, August 19, 2007

... and we ended the night at the clinic.

Who would have thought that we would end up in a clinic in Singapore with an I.V bag keeping us hydrated.

Let's start at the beginning shall we? We decided that today we would go to Santosa Island to get away from the wall to wall shopping that surrounds us. It is definitely a shoppers paradise here in Singapore, and we're talking high end stores, Gucci, Ferragamo, Hermes, sprinkled with the usual Banana Republic, and Nine West.
Santosa Island is similar to a theme park at Walt Disney World, where you can go to see a Dolphin show, there's an aquarium, a skyride, a luge ride, and assortment of other things to occupy yourself. Part of the tour we booked included the cable car ride to the island and the luge ride and the underwater show. The crowds were just as annoying as the shoppers back on the mainland and we didn't go to the Aquarium due to lack of time, and we didn't want to deal with the people. We opted to go for a beer instead. I know, a shock to most of you. At this point you would think Mark is writing this blog. Don't get me wrong, I like to shop as much as the next gal, it's just that it is a little on the overkill side here. Barb you were right, a weekend here is enough.
Digressing, sorry....okay, so we decide we are going to have steak for our last meal here in Singapore since it's been about a month since we had it. We ended up going to the Clarke Quay where there are a bars and restaurants to meet anyone's needs, including Hooters. No, we didn't eat or drink at Hooters, even though the picture Mark took may have appeared that way. There was a jug of Sangria waiting for us a tapas restaurant. We had a great steak and lamb, with a nice bottle of Rioja that wasn't chilled nor standing in 80 degree heat. It was so nice to have a decent bottle of wine.

Afterwards, we headed to the Clinic, which to my earlier reference is actually a bar. Very unique in its concept. The chairs are wheelchairs, and the couches are the beds you would see at a clinic. They have a few drinks that you get either as a needle or you can opt for a drink, that drips like an I.V. bag. We chose the latter. They give you this bag, and give you instructions on how to drip the alcohol through the tubes. The drink itself was okay, a little on the sweet side, but the concept is one we couldn't refuse. We enjoyed the laughs that we received from all the people passing us by including ourselves. People would ask to if they could take pictures or just stand far enough away not to look obvious. The memory of us drinking from this I.V. drip, will last in many a tourist mind and pictures throughout Asia.

* - Now safley back in Xiamen, we've added the picture of me being trained to drink, and the picture of one of the many tourists taking a picture of us with the IV drip....

Overly sterile?

Drinks at a typical Singapore outdoor bar.

Singapore is, as we mentioned, incredibly clean and sterile yet full of everything western that one could need. The food and the ability for shopping is a welcome break from the struggles that we go through trying to get our point across in Xiamen, but somehow it is just missing something. We think it may just be the people, as there isn't that overbearing friendliness that we've gotten used to. We went to a seafood restaurant that had been recommended from a friend in Xiamen only to find that it was a Chinese restaurant. Ah, we felt, this is nice, and then we proceeded to do our now standard practice of butchering their language and learning new words. Last night we learned how to say crab, "pang xie". And the black pepper crab that we had was outstanding...

Happy Irish pub, but a Guinness is more than an Absolute & tonic.

But, we are enjoying the wealth of pubs and outdoor bars that can be found in this city. Between the bars, the clean restrooms, and the food selection it is a good break from the grittiness and chaos that we've been living in, but we are also really looking forward to getting back to Xiamen.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Asia lite...

Wow, the difference that is Singapore. I've been meaning to write how I see China as a sort of communism-lite, in that what I've always thought of as communism is somewhat missing. Sure, it seems that everyone has a job and the government censors a lot of the media, but it's not that cold communism that we think of with lines for soup or tomatoes. Some of the older Chinese will talk about those days and how they think capitalism is leading to the downfall of their youth. In a way I can understand what they mean, as they don't need to get into that total consumable world that we and the rest of the western world is accustomed to.

Ok, back to Singapore, and our first weekend out of China. It's nice in that it's clean and everything is in English, almost non-Asian as odd as that sounds. I'd hazard a guess that it's 40% Westerners, 40% Indian, and 20% Asian, very different from Xiamen where we are in a 5% minority. Don't quote me on those numbers as they are rough guesses based on my personal observations. The whole place is impeccably clean, everyone is conscious of the crossings and every law, very sterile in a too perfect way, think stepford wives.... It's a total 180 of Xiamen, but in Xiamen the people are much friendlier and I'm thinking I'd rather spend time there...
Seriously, they clean their river like it's a swimming pool.
So, last night Indian food, which we never realized we missed as much as we did, and today a nice break at a tapas bar where we enjoyed some nice sangria. We also enjoyed a nice jazz bar last night. Singapore is odd, the whole place is either a western restaurant, hotel, or a mall. A lot of shopping, but everything here is expensive...

And the Hooters, who knew? I had to go in just to see the Asians in the tight tops, all stereotypes be damned. Nice huh, to catch them in a photo shoot... But they did chase after us for this following shot, I actually had to delete a shot to get them to leave us alone. They would have ripped the film from my camera had I had a old type film camera...

Friday, August 17, 2007

Bathroom Lessons...

Here's something the we haven't brought up yet, not proper blogging material we were thinking. But then we thought more about it, and we got a great picture from a restaurant that explains it all to us and we figured that we need to share with you all. As far as we can tell, this explains why the Chinese all squat to pee.

First, other then the new apartments, which are basically designed for westerners, and the hotels, you will not find a western toilet. That means no toilets as we know them, just a hole in the floor with two places to put your feet.

Second, most of these toilets do not have toilet paper, nor do they have towels out front by the sinks. You learn really quickly to have a small packet of tissues with you at all times.

Third, the cleanliness of said toilet depends on where it is. In a nice restaurant you're in luck it will be fairly clean, and it may actually have tissues. In a busier area such as the mall, supermarket, someplace like that, you're going to run into a bit of a mess about 50% of the time. If you're at a public one, well you'll never go to a public one so let's not even discuss that...

We have been out before and suddenly been "Ok, I'm done, I'm going back to the hotel. No, now." We've both said this at times, and we both understood what it meant. That's part of the first two weeks of your body adjusting to the food, we both feel that we are better now.

In addition, you will see little children walking around in crotchless pants, which in itself seems wrong, but they just squat and empty wherever they are at the time. Usually the parents will direct them to a tree or the grass, and sometimes the parents will lift the child up and hold them over some bushes. I will try to get a picture of this sometime before I leave, as it really is an odd sight to behold...

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Definition of insanity...

Remember when you were kids, and you used to say "it's all Greek to me." Well, today I was pretty much saying that about Chinese. Thinking that I would do laundry today since we are off travelling to Singapore for the weekend and being the dutiful wife, actually it was more out of boredom, that I would get a few loads completed. You would have thought that this was an easy feat, since we have accomplished this task a couple of times with our new Chinese washing machine.

And naturally Murphy's Law reared its ugly head. Yup the day you needed to get things done, and what happens, the washing machine decides it doesn't want to work. Go to collect the laundry and the water is still in the machine. Mmmm... I wonder, how did that happen? I press a few buttons, and nothing, turn the machine off and try again, nothing, press some more buttons, and finally drained the water that was in the machine. Let's start this again, shall we? Do the same thing, and now the machine decides that it doesn't want to work at all. Now what do I do? As I ponder the question of the day, I decide since Mark has the book with all the characters, I will figure this out and of course he has the book with him at work. Okay, that won't help me so the next thing that I do, is take the name of the machine and see if I can download the picture to help figure out what to do. Again, in Chinese and cannot find anything on the net on how the thing works. If at first you don't succeed, you try again or so the saying goes. I will take a picture and try to decipher the damn characters, only we don't have anything where you can write the characters and have the computer decipher it, or should I say wasn't able to find it.

Now my patience is running thin, why I don't know, it's not like I am heading off to work or anything...I figure, wash, rinse, spin, should be standard washing cycles. I typed in the words and of course there is no spin that has the same characters as the machine. Okay, I will try my phone, it has definitions, so off I go, looking for my phone, type in the word and lo and behold found it. I figure this time, I will take the sheets out, and add a smaller load in and guess what? It now works..I think I overloaded the little thing..

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Learn to cook?

For all of you who had the question, "Will I learn to cook?" from Mark's earlier post....Uh...NO! I know it comes as a shock to all.....

I will help out in other ways, such as choosing the right wine for the meal...

A day in the life...

Maybe we are finally getting settled in, as we really have nothing to report that's new and exciting. Today was just a messy day of rain that makes one not feel like doing much of anything. Tina stayed in a watched her new DVDs instead of investigating new hidden treasures within the alleys of the city.

We went and ate at one of these tiny window places last night, basically you just point to what you think looks good and then they load your trap up. I was a big spender and dinner totalled up to 11 RMB, that's just under $1.5. The beers were the expensive part adding an additional 3 RMB each, or again about $0.40 a bottle. That's expensive restaurant beer too.

Other than that we are anxiously awaiting our belongings so that we will have the pots and pans for us took cook ourselves some good home cooking. That's something I'd never would have thought I'd be saying....

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Guilty Pleasure...actually not so guilty

Barb, you will love this, I now have a personal masseuse. Don't worry, when you and Nancy come to visit, we will schedule massages, just give me the amount of time you want. She will do anywhere from 60-120 minutes, for the low cost of USD 7.00 per hour. She's a tiny little thing, with very strong hands, and elbows. Mark's has already warned me that I cannot become addictive to this little pleasure in life for fear that my addiction will continue back home. Actually, it isn't the addiction just the cost of the massage he's worried about.

On another note, went to buy some DVD's today in some vary unusual places. The one DVD store was in this back alley, that was behind another back alley, and the other was upstairs in a man's clothing store through the dressing room. I managed to pick up a few 4 T.V. series and 6 movies for the price of USD 40.00. Heather, found the Wonder Woman series for you, would you like me to pick it up?

Monday, August 13, 2007

Work fun

Ok, so Tina needs a job. Understandable, as apparently I'll be gone for some 20 hours a day.

Today was my fist day taking the shuttle bus into work, as opposed to having Rocky or another driver pick me up and bring me back. The shuttle picks me up a short 5 minute walk from out place, but it picks me up at 06:45. That means I need to be waiting there at that time, which has one leaving around 06:30 in the morning. That's early...

The shuttle stops and picks me up right at 06:45, and I'm the first one to climb on. That's good, a few more stops with people, let's time how long this takes. I think there were eight more stops picking up company workers, we arrived at about 07:50. About an hour, not too bad considering it takes around 30 minutes when it's a direct trip.

So the shuttle to bring you home is nice in that you've got options as to which one to take, kind of like the normal and late bus in high school. The early one leaves at 17:45, the late one at 19:20. I'm almost always going to be on the early one.

I'm thinking that I'm good, first one on this morning, first one off tonight... I should know better, as they run the route in reverse. Last one on is now first one off, how nice for those people. It makes for a long ride, especially after a hot day working in the plant. Let me just say that the smells on the ride home are a little overwhelming. Not a fun trip home....

I managed to get back to the apartment at 19:15, not quite 20 hours but still it makes for a long day...

I agree, Tina needs to get a job. I'd miss me too.

Seriously...I need to find work

Today my new friend thought it would be nice to meet another lady friend from Australia who happens to be a lovely lady and has been living in Xiamen since January. I have come to find out that she is the president of the expat association. This group consists of women who are living here and socialize periodically during the course of the month, be it luncheons, movie night, or excursions around the area. The monthly luncheon is scheduled for September and today the intial plans were taking place to decide the menu, and dates. Much to my surprise I was somehow conscripted into a committee for this group which assists in finding gifts, planning events and whatever is required for the various events. Seriously, do I look like the luncheon ladies crowd to any of you?

I cannot even imagine what retirement would be like. This after three weeks.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Ah, another fun day in China...

Today was more of a nice relaxing day, where for once we awoke quite refreshed. The bed is nice and comfortable, so one was able to actually sleep through the night, which is a very good thing.

We awoke at 0800 this morning to the sound of hammering upstairs, "Huh, I guess that they work on Sundays too." So we get up, I wander out of the bedroom only to find the kitchen floor soaking wet. The kitchen is sunk in ever so slightly and we are about 1/4" from the rest of the wood dining and living rooms being flooded. The hose from the filters to the small faucet had come undone, this is what you get from a Chinese knock-off, but it's a good thing that they had decided to work upstairs.

So we shut the water off and spend time cleaning the kitchen floor with the one small mop that the landlord left us, and our day begins...

Actually, that was the most exciting thing after that we did a few loads of laundry, which in it's own way is fun since you can't read any of the settings on the washing machine, only the light for the laundry level and the start button were understandable. But everything came out clean and we hung it all up to dry and went out for lunch.

Later we went with another couple to a pool hall and then out for another good Chinese meal, so it was a nice way to spend a Sunday.

Oh, and last night I was playing with the remote for the cable, can't read any of it but have a basic idea as to what some of the options are. I was able to move the start up channel and moved the only English speaking channel to always be the first channel when we turned the cable box on. That's nice, over 100 channels and now the English one will come up first. Then I locked the channel with the parental controls setting, this was an accident. We have not been able to figure out how to unlock it, tomorrow I will try and have someone from work help me to call the cable company. One hundred plus channels and now the only one we can't watch is the only one we could have understood....

Friday, August 10, 2007

A long day

Ah, only one thing that we needed to do today - buy a mattress pad. That should be easy, right? No, as we all know nothing is easy in China, and I don't think it would be that much easier even if we did know that language. I'm basing that on all of the conversations we have with locals who speak fluent English, thinks we think are easy simply are not.
The mattress in our place - Hard, just like the floor.
So we start with a walk up Hubin Nanlu, the street just on the south side of the lake, because we had seen some furniture stores along the street and we were told that was the place most likely to find a mattress pad. Just trying to explain to the guys at work that the beds were too hard was a task in itself, I honestly think they are just used to sleeping on the floors and find the beds too soft. I'll let Tina explain another day how she finds the contractors sleeping on the floor outside our apartment almost every afternoon during their break.

We end up walking into many a furniture store, both of us with our handy phones in hand, asking simply for a mattress pad. Both of our phones have Chinese-English dictionaries in them so I have mine on the Chinese for mattress and Tina has hers set on top. We can point to the two words and then hand signal a mattress top, and soft, and everything else we can think of. They just look and laugh and say "mayo" which is just "don't have."

Six stores all the same, some have mattress pads which a basically a big towel, some have nothing, most places point us to those bamboo floor mats which apparently they all use on their beds. This all being done walking between shops in 84 degree heat, 80% humidity, and occasional drizzle, it starts to wear on you...

Finally, at mall with the Carrefour, we start to make some progress. In the mall we find in the bedding section the same standard towel type covers and the bamboo, but also they have the Tempurpedic mattress pads. Finally, exactly what we want, this is perfect. Wait, what? It's how much? 17,000 RMB, that's just over 2,200 USD. We both begrudgingly decide that's just a bit too much.

Another bedding store at the entrance to the Carrefour just shake their head, say mayo, and point us to the entrance of the Carrefour. Yes, they actually have what we want, or the closest thing to what we want, and at this point it'll work. They have pads with some thickness to them so we buy two and hope that they'll work. We also buy a DVD player while we are there, we deserve it.

We love the Carrefour, it has all sorts of items and a really good supermarket, and as an added bonus it seems to be the only place that will take international credit cards.

The pads are now on the bed, and although still harder then we would like, we are looking forward to finally having a comfortable nights sleep....
New softer bedding...

And in other news, the tyhpoon that we talked about pretty much wore itself out crossing Taiwan and has finally arrived here just as rain. So we miss all the crazy winds and storms but now will get two plus days of rain. At least this should help to break the heat and humidity.

Our bed and our neighborhood....

Happy Chinese silk comforter, one of our first purchases...

The above picture of the bed looks nice, and the silk comforter is wonderful, however the beds here are as hard as the floor. Well, as hard as if you were sleeping on your comforter on a wood floor. If you roll over you wake up, that hard. We've been told that all the beds are like that, and that buying a mattress top may be difficult, but one of Tina's friends was able to buy some egg crate cushions at Wallmart for her bed so tomorrow we will purchase some sort of cushion, as neither of us think that we will be able to survive this bed too much longer. Already we are thinking about taking turns as to who gets to be the lucky one and sleep on the couch...

But enough griping, now that we are as settled as we can be until the rest of our belongings arrive, we decided to walk around our neighborhood last night. Also because the weather was still nice and, according to the internet, the tropical storm was taking it's time in Taiwan and wouldn't be arriving in Xiamen until around 0300 Friday at the earliest.

Also a lot of restaurants in the area, including some Thai and Italian places. We ate dinner the other night at a nice Korean place, and last night at a hot pot restaurant. Hot pot is where they bring over a bowl of chicken or pork stock, set it over a flame and then you order all the items that you want to eat. Bok choi, mushrooms, shrimp, pork, dumplings, all sorts of items, and you just throw them in the pot and let them cook, it's really quite good.

After that we found what feels like home to us, a small wine bar/shop. Nice, beautiful and with a good wine selection, almost like our old Que Syrah. The owners are both from Malaysia and speak perfect English, and they sat there with us and told us all about how things work on the island, where the ex-pats meet, how Tina can find work.... Tina already has an appointment with the woman's masseuse.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007


Well, our first typhoon passed us by harmlessly. Typhoon Pabuk moved just south of Taiwan last night and is now bothering the fine people of Hong Kong. I'm alright with that.

However, typhoon Wutip is following right behind Pabuk, and it is looking like it will run straight into Taiwan later today or tomorrow. That means that it'll most likely make it to Xiamen sometime on Saturday. As we said earlier, perfect for us to get lots of pictures from the safety of our apartment.

You can check out the following link to see how Wutip is progessing towards us,


Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Settling into our new home

Day one, in our new home, we had the Internet installed and in the typical Chinese fashion we had 4 people to assist what would normally take 1 person back home. Prior to the arrival of the Internet guys, our agent, co-worker, and I decided to watch some T.V., except it's all in Chinese. Yup, out of 90 channels, only 1, yes 1 has English, which means that we will be watching a lot of DVDs. Perhaps we will learn mandarin more quickly?

Later, a friend and I headed out to pick up a few necessities for our home, since our stuff is apparently back in the U.S and not in Shanghai as originally thought. Edlin took me to a wholesale store where they make silk comforters and duvets. Unlike us, their comforters are made out of silk and not feathers, and very hypo-allergenic. Absolutely gorgeous and expensive by Chinese standards, but well worth it. After dropping a chunk of change, we headed towards Walmart where we continued to stimulate the economy in Xiamen. Sheets, towels, and a host of other things were required for the new household, only to discover even Walmart doesn't accept credit cards. So much for carrying credit cards here, but at least you won't max out your cards.

So now the fun of unpacking.

On another note, we were told that a typhoon will be heading toward us either today or on Thursday. I'm sure we will have some pictures for everyone to see.

Finally, a place to call home…

Yes, the couch didn’t quite fit in, but we will live with it and after a while I’m sure that it won’t stand out quite so much as it does now. Right?

So yesterday we had some issues with getting the locks changed, mainly being that once again it took about 3 times longer than it should have, but it is now complete. This morning we checked out of the Crowne Plaza, our home for our first two weeks here, and after having the internet connected this morning we are officially living in our new place. Tina went out and bought some of our necessities, towels, sheet, cleaning supplies, and all those other things you forget that you need.

But, we are settling in and unpacking what items we did bring with us. We have heard from our shipping company and our belongings are still in the states, they are looking into it some more as it seems that we should be able to import items with the visa we are on. Hopefully it won’t be longer then a week before we have our wine and whatever else it was we packed.

So it seems like things are beginning to fall into place and we should hopefully be fully settled in another week or two. For now just enjoy the picture of our balcony, and of the view we have.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Living in Smurfland

Does anyone remember the cartoon about these cute little blue smurfs? After signing all the paperwork, the deal was to come back later and collect the keys from the management office. The outstanding issue was the living room furniture, and that it was going to be delivered around 7pm. Upon arrival in our new place, we saw the furniture that was delivered. We just looked at each other with that stupid look on our faces. You know the one, are you seeing what I'm seeing? We couldn't believe we just fell into smurf land. The sofa, love seat and chair were all leather as they claimed, but in sky blue. I didn't think they even made leather in that colour. Question of the day, how does one decided to have earth tones throughout the house, and then consciously pick a bright blue living room set?

Pictures to follow.....

Sunday, August 5, 2007

You wonder why we drink.....

Lets see how frustrated two A type personalities can get in one day... If you were to visit China, you would be able to purchase, flat screen T.V's, all types of mobile phones, SUV's, and I could go on, however, the problem is that when dealing with Chinese internal process you need to think of the 1950's or there about. Okay I wasn't around back then, but I know for a fact online banking, wasn't around. It took us from 9:30am - 4pm to buy 1 cell phone, attempt to open a bank account, and finalize the details for our apartment.

Today, Rocky escorted us to the China Bank where we were to set up our bank account. Sounds fairly easy right? We grab our number and wait in line to go to the teller, just like the old days. We walk up only to find out we need to fill out a long form. Okay, so off we go to fill this form out, but it has only one spot for one name. When I approached Rocky with the obvious, and said, how do we open a joint account, we come to find out you can't. We each have to open an account, or it is under one name. You get a bank book..okay really does anyone remember those from the 60's, and and one debit card, not two but one. So one person has to go into, yes, into the bank and the other has the luxury of going to the ATM machine. Okay, so that wasn't going to work for now and decided to change our US dollars to RMB as we need 4 months rent up front. We waited another 20 minutes, because the teller had to fill out 4 other forms, then get her supervisor over as she didn't have the ability change the money. Out Mark goes with a gray bag stuffed full of RNB.

Okay, so onward to purchasing cell phones. We both knew what we wanted, so it was a matter of just purchasing the phones.....or so we thought. We go to Carrefour, which is similiar to Walmart but French style. I was able to get my phone, but the store didn't have the phone that Mark wanted. I purchase my phone, pay by credit card, and the salesperson rings up the sale. Behind this gal, is another sales person who gives you the receipt, along with phone. You must keep the receipt out, similiar to Costco, to prove that you paid for your items. After you leave there is a counter where you get yet another receipt because you had to turn in your receipt they gave you earlier. You think we're done right, wrong. Off we go to China Mobile, where you have to go and get your SIM card as they are not in the phones when you purchase them. You pick out your phone number and then they call in the number to register your phone. Now how do we pay for the phone. That took 20 minutes to explain to Rocky to explain to China Mobile that we want a card that we can just add an amount to the card. Finally after 1 1/2 hours of getting our SIM cards and phone cards, we were off to finalize the apartment.

Make a long story short, there were 7 people trying to figure out, how to pay for the management fees, internet, and utilities. That took another 2 hours of conversation but we finally got it figured out, or so we think. The good news is that the kitchen was completed.

The beauty of us is that we each took turns becoming frustrated while the other attempted to communicate what we really wanted.

Heads up for anyone moving to China, while packing your clothes pack your patience with you as well.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

A day of touring.

Today we toured a small part of the island. We woke up to a beautiful blue sky and just knew that it would be nice and hot, what better day then to try out Xiamen's air conditioned bus system. Only 2 RNB for a ride in air conditioned comfort, as opposed to the 1 RNB rides on the non-air conditioned buses.

Took a trip up to Xiamen university and walked through it's campus. It is absolutely beautiful, and the temple right at the entrance is even better. The top picture is from the temple grounds just at the entrance to the university. From there we walked down to the beach along the ring road and around their old fort.

Yeah, a lot of walking in the heat, too much in fact, so we hopped on another bus. Yes, we hopped on like we knew what we were doing, only to realize that the bus just before is the one we wanted and we would have to get out an wait for a transfer later. The later bus didn't come and after maybe 10 minutes of waiting in the nice hot sun we finally just hailed a taxi to take us over to the ex-pat area.

We were looking for a travel agency that is supposed to have great deals on flights out of Xiamen, but found that it was closed today for training, so we sat at an ex-pat bar filled with Aussies. Learnt even more about dealing with the Chinese, the owner says that he hasn't paid a gas bill in 9 years. Another friend of his received gas bills but was waved away when he went in to try and pay them, they didn't total them up and actually charge him until he moved out 3 years later.

Then we walked back across the lake, closer to where we will soon be living and we stumbled upon this beautiful outside bar recently opened by a Swede. We are thinking that this place may just be our new Friday evening haunt.

Yes, this is a nice bar indeed, right on the ocean with picturesque sunsets over the mainland. Maybe we will get used to the life here, maybe....

Friday, August 3, 2007

That which does not kill you....

...well you know the rest. This evening after my husband describes his day at work, casually mentions to me..ah honey, talked to the movers today and there is an issue with moving our belongings to China. Apparently, the movers require not only your passport, visa, home address, but also need the permanent residence card. After I stated the obvious, that we don't a permanent residence card, the answer was, " yea that might be a problem". So as calmly as I could muster my question, though rhetorical, was "What about the wine?" My husband assured me, that he will contact his colleagues up in Shanghai to assist us. The worst case scenario, we ship 750 pounds back home. I bet you all are wondering who will be the lucky one that gets the call asking to store our treasures? Heather, I understand you still have room in your condo? All I can say, is that I am happy that I packed Lulac in my suitcase. (Sylvia and Dad you would appreciate that comment)

As they say, have credit cards will shop..

On another note, Heather and Mike thanks for the drunk calls and update on Lollapalooza.

General Information

Not much going on lately, we are relieved that we've finally found an apartment and are hoping to be able to move in on Monday. I was told today that the owner expects to have the kitchen completed by tomorrow night and that we can finalize he contracts on Sunday. So we've got that going for us.

The weather has cooled off a little bit, or we are starting to get used to the humidity. Today the high is only 88F with 66% humidity, that's nice and cool. The sky is usually hazy, with that kind of feel like it's going to rain. I suppose that the high humidity will do that to you, but supposedly this is the last month for that.

Last month for the heat and humidity because next month starts typhoon season. If you've been watching the news there is one running up into Japan right now, but we've been told that as the season progresses their paths lower and generally slam right into Taiwan. Those aren't too bad as we are told you get about a 5-6 hour warning to get inside. Apparently some skirt just under Taiwan and then run up the coast of China, those run straight into Xiamen and that happens 2-3 times a season.

That's coming in September, so you know that we all have have something to look forward to...

Xiamen Weather update

We have been negligible in writing about the weather here in Xiamen. Per my sister-in-law she wanted daily updates, but since it's been pretty much been the same, since we arrived, I thought I would give it to you all at once. Saves on typing. Apparently for the month of July and August one can expect an average temperature of 100 degrees or approx 35 degrees celsius for you crazy Canadians. This is without the humidity, where it has reached toward 115 degrees. Actually it cooled off one day to a cool 95. The instant shade picture that was posted a few days back is typical of the kind of accessory (umbrella) one carries here. It helps, but it's still damn hot regardless of what my husband says. Anyone who is adverse to this heat, my suggestion is to visit us either earlier or later in the year. Speaking of later, we have been advised that September and part of October is typhoon season. Yippee, can't wait. We are generally protected by Taiwan but that depends on the winds and it is possible that Xiamen will get some doozys. Word of warning came from our beloved expats, if you have to go out, be careful as some of the shingles on the rooftops will come flying at a moments notice and can cut you like a knife. Well you know where I will be for the month of September.....playing solitaire on my computer, waiting for people to email me.

Actually it should be interesting and sure to have some great pictures for our blog. Stay tuned.

* - authored by Tina posted by Mark....

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

中国厦门 市思明区禾祥西二路 华侨海景城二期槟城楼 邮编361004

For all of you who cannot read Mandarin, above is our new address. Yup, we finally have a winner. Yesterday evening we went back to the second apartment we viewed last Monday. The idea was to ensure that it was as lovely as we remembered and it was. We attempted to negotiate a better rate and we could only get a 200 RMB discount, which really isn't that much of a deal, however we did like the area and the building was new. The agent also mentioned that there was another apartment in the same building on the 20th floor, so we figured what the heck, it was 300 RMB less than the 17th floor apartment. We took a look at the apartment, and decided that this was the one. It has hardwood floors and it's the same layout as the 17th floor apartment plus we were able to negotiated a better deal. (told them it was bad luck for us to pay an amount in odd numbers, that the need to reduce the rent to an even number). This translates to about $100USD savings per month. The only issue was that the apartment didn't have a kitchen. Hey, as long as it has a fridge, we're good. Okay, so all kidding aside, the kitchen wasn't completed, but the owner promised that the apartment would be done by the 6th of August. Keep your fingers crossed.

So for everyone who had expressed an interest in coming to Xiamen, we now have a 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom (plus a den) home with a pool and a large balcony where we have views of the lake. We are close to shopping, restaurants, as well as the pier, where ferries depart to Gu Lang Yu for additional shopping.

Entrance fee for the Wichmann Hotel will be a bottle wine (or 2), and it doesn't have to be expensive wine just good. Heck we'll even take a box of wine. That was for you Emily.

Gu Lang Yu Shopping Paradise

Today's adventure started at 9:00am when our group of 4 headed to the pier to take the ferry to Gu Lang Yu. This island was inhabited by wealthy Europeans and the mansions are still lined around the island. The ferry ride over to Gu Lang Yu is free, and one pays on the return trip. If you choose to go and sit on the top, it's an additional 1RMB. Very similar to the Star Ferry in Hong Kong. The trip takes about 10 minutes if that and ferries run all day long, so if you miss one, another one is right behind it. Traditional cars and motorcycles are not permitted, however, electric cars will take you around the island for 60RMB, and you can hop on and off.

We walked through the main town and here one can shop until you drop. There are stores where you can buy teapots and all types of teas, artwork, clothing, Chinese ornaments, pearls, handbags, and food. Here you can practice the art of negotiations, and after a week of negotiating apartments, I was in rare form. Okay, thinking the merchants had more practice than I, figure they still came out ahead, but hey I felt good about my negotiating skills. We managed to do a bit of damage, some more than others, so a job well done by all.

As many of the books stated, one will go broke saving money in China. I couldn't agree more.