Saturday, September 29, 2007

Hanoi Hilton

Ok, so our hotel isn't that bad. We have been here almost a full day now and can only say that we absolutely love Hanoi. But, we did visit the prison that was dubbed that 'Hanoi Hilton' today and that was an eerie and humbling experience.

Everything else so far has been outstanding, to the point were we found a restaurant that will buy us wine at cost to bring back to China. Yes, at his cost, a nice Argentinian malbec.

We toured today, Tina was a little put off by visiting the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh, but other than that the tours have been great. Beer here in a restaurant is an equivalent cost to US$ 0.60. Everything here makes China look expensive.

The internet is the hotel is only a computer by the front desk so no photos with the update, but they will follow. Today we took one of those bike taxi's over to a Vietnamese restaurant and back, on the way back we convinced him to let me pedal him and Tina through town.

Yeah, we are lucky to be alive.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

China National Holiday.

Ok, so next week is China National Holiday, and almost all companies have all of next week off. We have been told that these holiday weeks are the worst time to travel within China, as everybody else has the week off and is also travelling. We have also been told that Xiamen is a big vacation holiday spot, and becomes incredibly crowded.

So what are we to do? I think most of you know already, we are leaving today for a week of touring in Vietnam. Ah, a nice relaxing week of touring....

That said, we don't know how much access we will have to an internet connection, so updates on the story of our life may miss a few days.

Don't worry, the minute we return, or if we can find internet access, you all will be inundated with photos and stories of our travels.

Lessons of Chinese Culture

Today, I learned some interesting things about the Chinese culture from various friends, of whom some are actually Chinese.

1. Unlike back home when your parents told you to eat everything, here it's a sign of prestige for you to leave food on the plate. Two things here, that you can afford to throw food away and second they think you are hungary, so they keep feeding you. (I know dad, but even these people went through a war!) A cute little story that I just heard. There was a gentleman who was invited to stay with some Chinese, and was offered two eggs for breakfast. After finishing the breakfast, another two eggs appeared on his plate, and so it continued until the poor man ate 10 eggs. As far as his host was concerned he was still hungry.

2. Unlike home ,where the host will wave at you as you head off after a evening dinner, here your Chinese host will walk you down to your car, bus, or even home. To not do this, is rather rude and inconsiderate in their eyes. This actually happened to me, but I figured it was a friend and thought that they were going in the same general direction.

3. If someone invites you to dinner, or you are the host and paying for the evening dinner, don't be shocked if some of your guests will get on the phone and start calling friends to invite them to your soiree. You may start off with 6 people. however by the end of the evening, you are enjoying dinner with 12 or 14 people, many you don't even know. All, I can say, is bring lots of cash, since credit cards are deemed worthless around here.

4. Again, different than back home, where we generally make plans to see friends, the Chinese will call you and ask whether you want to go out with them. Should you reply yes, expect them to be at your place within 1/2 hour or 1 hour. They don't make advance commitments here.

Or they may call and say they want to see you, and you say"sounds good", your doorbell will ring because they are at your doorstep already.

Growing up…

We are making progress over here in China. We are starting to get settled in more and adapting to a way of life that requires much more patience.

Tina now has almost a week of classes under her belt, and is adjusting to being a student again. She comes home from class all excited, like that first grader who hasn’t quite grasped the fact that they have at least eleven more years of schooling. Remember back when learning was fun? I get to listen to her explain how to open and close your lips with each of the different tones, and even when you need to bite your tongue.

She walks around the house saying “Huang, huang, hoo-ang, hwang, hwang?” or actually "黄,荒,皇,晃,慌", and then she'll follow that with “There. Did you hear the difference? I think I’m getting this.” I already feel like I won’t be able to catch up.

I’m getting better at accepting how the system over here works and learning to accept the fact that things do not get completed in any sort of timely fashion. I still get incredibly frustrated at least several times every day, but I do think that the overall frustration level is slowly dropping.

On top of being bothered by what I can’t accomplish during the day, I’m also frustrated because we don’t have any real downtime in the evenings. Every evening when I get home sometime its “What do you feel like eating tonight? Chinese?” By the time we are done and get home it’s pushing 21:00 and we’re both exhausted.
We rely on the weekends to allow us some much coveted downtime, along with exploring more of the island and purchasing all of those items we know that we still need.
But now for the good news, we finally have a date to look forward to, that’s right Santa will be swinging into Xiamen at the early date of Wednesday October 10. Yes, finally after almost three months, all of our western belongings have finally made it over to China and are now in the process of clearing Chinese customs.
Ah to be able to cook again, who would have thought that we would be craving that so much? And our wine, that poor lost case of wine, who knows what its been through lo those long hot weeks patiently waiting in a container in LA.
So, growing up? Well we went out and did the grown up thing, we bought a welcome home gift for our wine. I hope they appreciate it…

We also bought them some friends so to help them feel at home.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

This admin is on holidays!

Yesterday, was Mid-Autumn Moon Festival her in China, which is a very popular holiday. It occurs on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month. Because the moon is round, it symbolizes family, so, this is the time of year for family reunions. Moon cakes are the item of choice to purchase during this time, which is similar to the fruit cake in consistency, not in taste. They are generally made of Lotus seeds, preservered egg yolk, ice cream or meat.

Mark and I were invited for dinner to enjoy this holiday with some of the co-workers. There were about 10 of us that went to a BBQ, similiar to the Brazilian steak houses back home. It was quite tasty, and the restaurant we think may be owned by a German, where they made their own beer on the premises which by the way was delicious. Max, one of the guests was telling Mark and I where he came from, and that he has 1 opportunity during the year to go home. It takes him 4 days to travel to his family's town, near Inner Mongolia. I was telling Mark that it would be hard just going home once a year and his response was, " I didn't go home for years. It's only since I met you, that I've been going home more often." He's such a guy!

On another note, today, we arrived in class all ready and prepared for day 3 of our lessons, and our teacher announces that we have classes this Saturday and Sunday. You're kidding right? No, it wasn't April Fool's, so no it's not a joke. The question was posed to Chen Lau Shir, (teacher, Chen in Mandarin) how come we just find this out now? She was just informed today as well and explained that since we have the week off and not just three days, we had to make up for those days. Most of the students had made arrangements during this time period since we were told by the administrators that the last day was the 28th.

The question was posed, "who was willing to take notes for those of us on holidays?"

Sorry, but this admin is on holidays!

Monday, September 24, 2007

The fun of learning

Today, we are allowed to start sitting in on our extra curricular classes. We can take up to 4 additional classes if we so choose without any further costs. We have until the 12th of October to decide if and what classes would would like to take, so a few of us decide to check this out. The list is posted as to the times, places and what we are eligible for, since some of the classes are more advanced than others. As we look at the first list, it's all in Chinese, okay, that isn't going to help us, so we start looking around for the English postings, but there wasn't any. I asked the administrators and she says, "no, everything is in Chinese, no English". Okay, I get the part that we have to learn the language, but come on, give us poor newbies a break will ya? We haven't even mastered the alphabet in pinyin, let alone try to figure out the characters. We hunted down some people who were in the advanced classes to help translate , but they were struggling as well. Then a gal, who was Chinesse decent came over to attempt to help us, but she barely spoke English. Mmm, maybe we should reconsider this, since we have a hard enough time as it is in our mandatory classes.

We keep saying, baby steps, little baby steps.

First Day of School

Today was our actual first day of classes. I arrivede before 8am where we had to change classrooms due to the construction going on, so we moved to the second floor. We chose our desks, and anxiously waited for our lessons. I felt like I was back in the 3rd grade again.

We reviewed the Chinese initial letters and then the final letters, where we reviewed with the teacher and then on our own. As we continue to review the sounds from the alphabet, our teacher would give us these strange looks, like what are you trying to say because I can't tell, and the start to giggle. We practiced, practiced and then practiced some more for the rest of the class.

The second class was pretty much the same as the first class, except more emphasis on the four tones. She would instruct us to say O in Chinese, using the first, second, third and fourth tone. Let's just say, we had about as much luck speaking in this class as we did in the last class. This teacher, Ms. Chen, would keep saying, no good, no good, and then tell us on how to shape our mouths so that we would get the correct tone. She went from one classmate to the next in attempting us to get this letter correct. Once we somewhat mastered that, we moved onto the other vowels and then some words that we could use. She taught us how to say person in Chinese which is, ren. with the third tone. For this word, we had to place our tongues in the middle of our mouth and then finish with the tongue sticking out of your mouth like you were biting it. Finally, when she thought we could say it, then we were instructed to tell her what country we originated from in a sentence. For me it would be, Wo, using the third tone, shi, using the second tone, Jainada, in 1st, 2nd, and 4 tone, and finally ren, in third tone.

Okay, did you get all that? Yea, that's we said too...

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Shopping in China

Today we took a walk through the markets, we had a quick shopping list and figured we could grab everything quickly and easily.

The pricing of everything is negotiable, and once you know how to count the bartering gets more and more fun.
We were lucky to get this photo, the crab jumped out of the water bucket that they store them in and he had made it halfway to freedom before she grabbed him with the tongs...
So, what did we buy? Bananas.
And yesterday we went over to the electric city and bought a printer scanner that we managed to talk them down almost 200元. The most important statement we learnt is "太多".

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Tours with Tina.

So last night it was Tina's turn to show off her knowledge of Xiamen to her new college buddies. We met up with one of her new classmates, Renco, down by the campus shortly after I got home from work. He is from Holland and is hoping to learn Chinese so that he can work up in Beijing during the Olympics.

We started at a few of the small pubs that we knew of by the University, had a quick dinner and then flipped into tour mode.

From the campus to a blues/folk bar that had some Croatians singing, halfway across the island to the Orient bar and the expat area, then back towards the middle of the island and the most Chinese bar that we know of.

Ah, seven hours of drinking at five different bars. All in all a good night...

Friday, September 21, 2007

Structure again

Finally, I will have some structure in my life again. Yippee! We met our teachers, which class level we will be in, (okay, no brainer for me!) purchased our books, and finally got our schedule. My friends except one, are all in the same class. So we will be helping each other attempting to learn Chinese. You want to talk about United Nations, we have students from Russia, Iceland, Morocco, Thailand, Korea, United States, Switzerland, Australia, and of course Canada. That's only in my class. There are 4 other classes that have students from around the world. Perhaps I can pick up a few words in Russia or Arabic while I am learning Chinese.

The good news is that the classes are done either in the a.m or pm and not 1/2 in the a.m and then return in the p.m. I will be attending classes on Mon/Wed/Fri from 9am until 12pm, and Tues/Thursday from 2:30pm until 6pm. These will be the mandatory classes and next week we can choose the elective classes. Basically you sit in the classes you think you may want to take, and once you decide, you have the teacher approve your request.

Okay, off to host the Xiamen Pub Crawl.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Concierge 101

During our orientation week, we also receive a tour of the campus. As we wait for our tour begin, a young man from Holland approaches me, and asks whether I speak English or not. I tell him I'm from Canada, so yes I do. We start chatting, and we get on the topic of places to go, should you wish to enjoy an alcoholic beverage. He has been unable to find any bars around Xiamen. My concierge instinct comes out, and I assure him there are plenty, and rattle a few off.

After our tour of the campus, he asks if it would be possible to show him where some of the bars are located, around the university. What was I going to say, no?

So now, Mark and I will be hosting a pub crawl of Xiamen.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Orientation Day at Xia Da

This morning was orientation for all the new foreign students attending XMU. It was a little over an hour and I met up with some of my new friends. Upon arrival, we were welcomed and then advised to stand and listen to the Xiamen University anthem. One by one professors, security people and administrators all welcomed us and then gave us the lo down of the do's and don'ts of being a student here at Xia Da. This is slang for XMU that everyone uses, Xia is short for Xiamen, and Da is short for Daxue which means big learning.
The first rule was to ensure that we register with the police as soon as you receive your resident's visa. According to the woman, anytime you leave the city, you must advise your professors or the school. Mmmm, okay, don't have to worry about that since we are on another type of visa. Second thing that they mentioned, if you have a student resident's visa, you cannot work or you will be in great trouble. Mmmm, okay so far so good. Third rule is, should you explore Xiamen, and by all means we should, you must stay clear of the military zone or you will be in great trouble. Mmm, already had the pleasure of someone yelling at me the first week here, so I can cross that off my list and lastly, make sure you attend classes, call your teacher if you are sick and be a good student. We were dismissed, and then we were advised to come back for the campus tour, held later this afternoon.
After orientation, I received a call from another friend who was at the office trying to fill out an application for students living outside of the XMU campus. He calls to see if I will be filling this out. Uh, no, and you shouldn't either. We are taking one maybe two semesters (will have to see if I am a good student or not) I say. It applies to the other students, not us, or so I think. He calls back later to say that they shooed him away. Why, I ask? He was told " this is too confusing right now, come back next week, we are only handling easy problems today".
Now, how often did you want to say that to your clients? Thinking back, I may have actually said that once or twice.

Day 1 XMU - Registration

The first day of XMU, began at 8:30am on the 17th Sept. XMU has designated two days to register, one due to the demand of the foreign students, and the other because 75% of us forgot one thing or another, so we must come back to complete the process. Assuming you have everything, it should take about 4 -6 hours. If not, you have to come back later or the next day and have the pleasure of standing in line all over again. Patience, my friends, patience.

Okay from the beginning, it starts with the front people asking for your invitation, and of course I don’t have one since I was late in registering for the semester. I show them my version of acceptance via email and they give you another application form to fill out. Once completed you proceed with step 2. Here is where you pay your tuition if you haven'd done so already. I have already completed that process, so I move to step 3. So far so good, but as we all have come to know, that, was the easy part. This is where you have to have some patience. This step took approximately 2 hours, with many people complaining about the heat. There are no air conditioners while we were waiting in line, and the temperature was 36 degrees Celsius. Surprisingly, I was okay with this heat. I had the opportunity to meet a young gal from Milan who had been studying Chinese for the past three years. We started chatting which makes the time go by much more quickly. She speaks 5 languages including her own and next thing you know we are exchanging phone numbers. This portion of the process is where where you are greeted by the school administrators, who want to see your passport, visa, tuition fee, and invitation letter. Okay, so out of 4 things that was required, I have one, the tuition fee. Our passport along with our visa is now sitting at the Vietnamese consulate. I explain where the passport and visa are, and show them the copy of my what I have, my passport. I also show them the email from the school administrator, which they seem to be okay with. Okay, so step 4 is taking your picture, which was easy enough, and a relatively small line. I assumed the picture was taken for the student I.D. Step 5 was to go to another area to present the medical certificate for the physical which you needed to present to go to school. Again, according to the school, I didn’t need to have this certificate. Now I have to try convincing the person who was handling this part of the process. Not so easy. He simply wasn’t buying it. After a few minutes of discussion, he decides I should talk to someone else. I go through the entire story yet again, and she agrees that I do not need to have the medical certificate. Onward and upward to step 6. Here the line looks short, but it took over 2 hours, mainly due to students not having the necessary documents. You also have to pay for medical insurance in this line, which created more confusion for the students. They give you the welcome packet, student I.D, and a booklet with your picture on it. I have been in line for about 10 minutes, where I meet two guys, one from Quebec and one from Chicago. I now have three friends in a little more than 4 hours or is it 5? Who’s counting at this point? As we were patiently in line, my friend from Quebec finds out that he needs 4 pictures. He was unaware of this, as we all were, so the three of us chimed in at the same time explaining that we were only advised to bring one picture of us. Oh no she says, you need four. What about the picture that they just took? Nope, we don’t use that one. So much for the student I.D. photo I thought they were taking. At this point, I think she was too tired to ensure that the right procedures were in place so she stamped our booklets, as only the Chinese know how to do, and told us to come back with the photos. Okay, the last step was to take have a simple interview. This part was fairly quick. This one talks to you in Chinese so that she can determine what classes to place you in. That's a no brainer. After that, she advises you to come back on Friday to find out about classes and times.

So that part was over, we just have to do a couple more things and we are done. With my new friends in toe, we head out to get pictures and then lunch. By this time we are hitting the 2pm mark. After lunch we went back to present our photos and of course wait in line. Then we went to the area where you pay for tuition to get your invoice for payment of the classes. We had to wait since the bank wasn’t opened yet. They take long lunches here in China. Here I met yet another ex-pat from the States. She was here with her husband and also quit her job since she is also here for 2 years and needed something to occupy her time. I come to find out she lives in our apartment complex. After this process, I needed to go to the OEC building to get my invitation, and apparently paperwork for my X visa. My new friend from Chicago, and I, head out, as he too needs a letter from the school accepting him into the course. We go to the building only to get redirected to the place we just came from. Back we go, and find the person that we need, who then informs me, that I’m good with my documentation. Apparently I don’t need an X visa.

Oh the fun of China!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Our relaxing weekend.

Over the course of the last few weeks, we realized that we had actually been quite busy, and we had planned on spending this weekend in with only a minimal amount of activities. We all know that we shouldn't even plan like that, as what we ended up with couldn't have been further from our initial plans.

Wednesday we get invited to the wine tasting for Thursday night, "Sure, why not? We've got a quiet weekend planned."

Thursday we go to said wine tasting, and Yang asks if we would like to be shown around the island on Saturday, "Sure, why not? We've got a quiet weekend planed."

Friday we ended up going out on our "Blind Date", which was a lot of fun and a good night of drinking. It was a couple of quick e-mails and we figured "Tonight's the best night, besides we've got a quiet weekend planned.

Saturday we spend all day hiking and then run into Jose and Edlin. Not planned to be out until 01:00, but worth it at the time.

Sunday - ah, now we can relax.

We wake up late, pushing 11:00 which is amazing with the amount of construction going on, and then remember that Edlin invited us over to dinner at their place. When they call to confirm that we will be coming over, we offer to make our nachos. This is more for us, as now we have some beans that we bought in Hong Kong. We still haven't gotten a hold of the Mexican to get the beans and pancake mix that he brought us....

Shortly after talking to Edlin we realize that we are out of cheese and time is surprisingly short. A quick run to the Metro for nacho supplies and and then taxi back to Jose and Edlin's. As an added bonus, the Mexican and his family come over. It was nice to see everyone, to have an incredible home cooked meal, and to finally get the supplies that we had to beg the Mexican to bring back for us.

Ok then, full of food and happy we head home at 19:00, you would think that maybe we'd get to bed early. Nope, I wasted away the next three hours posting pictures from the weekend up onto Flickr.

I think that next weekend we will plan to be incredibly busy without a moment of time to think to ourselves....

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Part III

On another note, the conclusion of the "bus pass". After the botanical gardens, with a native Chinese we decided that we should take the bus to determine once and for all if this card is indeed a bus pass. Karen is aware of this, since I was on the phone with her when we actually boarded, but yes this bank cards as Mark likes to put it, is indeed a card that works on the bus and it doubles as a debit card as well.

厦门植物园, followed by karaoke

Ah, talk about a busy Saturday. One of the girls that I work with, Yang, came over to the island to show us around and also just be helpful in answering any questions that we have about life in China. It was a nice full day of hiking through 厦门植物园, which is the Xiamen Botanical Garden. Absolutely beautiful, and the only thing that we could have asked for would really have been more time to see everything. Check out all of those pictures over on flickr, you should be albe to get to them by clicking on the picture box on the right side of this blog.

This is apparently the flower of Xiamen

After we left the park we took Yang over to a western restaurant that we've been wanting to try for a while. It is located close the the botanical garden, so that made it real easy to head over and order up a cheese plate and a bottle of wine. Two cheese plates later it's starting to get late and Yang needs to grab a bus back over to the mainland. We say good night to her and thank her for all of the help she was in answering those little questions that you never really know who to ask.
From there we head over the the main shopping street, Zhongshan Lu, and Tina takes me to one of the DVD shops that she had been shown. Yeah, we left there down 300元, but with a lot of good movies to add into our collection. After that we decided that since we were close to the Crown Plaza we would head over there and try the small little bar that we used to walk by but never stopped into. What we didn't know is that the place is a karaoke bar, ah how fun.
What's even crazier is we walk in and sitting in the first booth are our friends Jose and Edlin. Xiamen really is a small island. Jose has quite the voice, and it was nice to sit, have a bottle of wine, and listen to the everyone sing. After Tina and I started our third bottle of wine we, for some unknown reason, decided that we too would sing....

Butchering 'Bus Stop' by The Hollies

Singing 'House of the Rising Sun'

Another beauty of the karaoke bars is that a girl will sit with you at your table. Her job is to make sure that your glass is never empty and to get your songs put into the queue. Most of the time they just sit there and try not to look miserable.

The table behind us was also having a great night, they were tourists from Japan. It also felt good that they applauded when I finished, even if it was just sympathy applause. Everyone other then myself was able to carry a tune...
The one Japanese girl was using the seaweed paper from her sushi to black out her teeth and was also kind enough to show us all the fun one can have with their food....

Yeah it was a great time, by the time we finally finished all our fun and made it home, it was just after 01:00.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Blind Date

So last night we met up with another couple that recently moved to Xiamen and shared some of our stories with them. It was a good time and interesting to listen to how everyone that moves here all has a similar list of observations.

Way back when we first got here, those long two months ago, and we started blogging our experience it occurred to me that other people would probably be doing the exact same thing and blogging their own stories. I'm a little slow, I know, but for some reason it never occurred to me to look for blogs written by people living over here until we arrived.

The couple we met last night are fellow bloggers, and I found their site, that they started up well before they moved. We started e-mailing back and forth little bits of information that we had learnt, and then set up meeting for drinks.

As Tina put it, "It's like going on a blind date...." We're meeting people that we've only read a few posts from and we've sent a few e-mails about banking, we have no idea what they look like other then an idea that forms when you hear that they live in Vermont. They had the advantage, as we have pictures of us on our blog - so they were the ones that stepped up to us in the bar "Mark?"

It's easier making friends here, as everyone has that common thread of living far away from home. And, to some degree it takes a certain type of personality to up and move to a new country and deal with all of the fun learning that comes with it. It's also just really nice to talk to others when it's not in broken English....

The world loves us....

Last night we were invited to a wine tasting dinner, by friends who own Temptations, a wine and coffee shop. It was held at the Xianglu Grand Hotel, which according to the locals here is the largest hotel in China. Need to verify that statement.

It was a lovely evening, where we tried different wines from smaller vineyards in Australia. It also gave us a chance to meet other laowais that are living here in Xiamen. The one thing we enjoy doing is meeting people, and swapping stories, and especially with a nice glass/bottle of wine. Now that my friends, is life.

The people that we met were mainly from the U.S originally with a few other countries sprinkled in the mix. One couple we met has been living here for the past 5 years, teaching children. They had taught in a the rural areas of China, Bangledash, and Honduras. They're hope is to move to Eastern Europe, such as Bucharest or Budapest. They have a young daughter,who, except for one year, has spent her life travelling all over the world. Now that's an expat. We also met a young lady who had been living in Brazil for the past 4 years, in some remote place in the mountains. You always learn of the new and exciting hotspots to go to and hope you get there before the rest of the world catches on. Unfortunately, the world is becoming smaller place, so this is becoming more difficult to do. According to a couple of people that we have spoken to, the new hot spot appears to be Laos, so now we have to figure out how to squeeze this little adventure into our 2008 vacation time.

Later that evening there was a draw for a bottle of wine, with some of the accessories that go with drinking wine, corkscrew, the wine topper, etc etc...Guess who won? Dad, Karen, Barb, I can hear it already, so you can save your breath because Mark coined it already, "Baby, I keep telling you, the world loves us."

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Chinese Diet

Yesterday Mark and I headed out for a quick meal and found a small place near our home. Figuring that most of the tables were full, this is a good sign. We received the menu, and we decided that we would get the duck along with some fried rice. We ordered the duck hodgepodge, according to Mark's trusty phone. Basically we ate the liver of the duck along with a few other odd things we couldn't figure out. Spicy, but very tasty.

After picking up our tickets, Mark had to make a quick stop at the Marco Polo hotel. As he put it, "dinner wants out". Since returning from Hong Kong, our stomachs have been re-adjusting to Chinese food again.

Having spoken to a couple of friends about our problem, one gal said, oh.."the Chinese diet." Mark is the last person that needs this diet. It's quite normal, to go through a period of adjustment. The fun of living in a foreign country. The longer you are out of the country eating western foods, the longer it takes for your body to adjust.

This should be fun after the Christmas holidays.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

You thought the CTA was bad

So. this story started yesterday, but because of the water problem here, this story was put on hold, except now it becomes a three part story which I felt that needed to be shared.

Part I

Off I go to get a bus pass since school is starting next week. Yup, the countdown has begun.

As with many things that we cannot explain while living in China, the bus pass is no exception. There is but one place and only one place in Xiamen where you can purchase such a beast, and it so happens to be at the local bank across the street from where we live. Mark and I attempted to buy one a few weeks back without any luck, We got the "teeng boo dohn", which basically means she didn't care to understand us. Mark and I ran into a friend while shopping, (small island) who originally came from China but was a Canadian, so I explain our quandary and she offers assistance. With pen and paper in hand, she writes in Mandarin what we are looking for, and tells us that we should add 200 RMB on the card.

I go to the bank that sells the cards, and hand her the slip of paper that basically tells her that no, I don't want to hold your bank up, but I would like to buy a bus pass. She reads the note and then proceeds to hand me this form, which now I have to write out and yes it's all in Chinese. I look at her, and she gives me the signal to sign my name. Okay that's done,. Would you like my my 200 RMB now? That was too easy, now I need my passport, says the quasi manager who speaks a little English. Really, why is that? Yes, he assures me, I do need a passport. I go back to our place, find the passport and head back to the bank. They look at my passport, photocopy it, and get me to fill the rest of the form. After which three tellers, a security guard, the quasi manager, and two clients and 20 minutes later resulted in me getting a bus card, or so I thought. It didn't look like the card that other people had, so I verified it with the quasi manager to ensure what I had in my hand was a bus pass. He assures me in his broken English, yes it is.

Later that evening, when Mark arrived home, I told him about my bus pass, and of course he wants to check it out. I show him and he says, " this isn't a bus pass, it's a debit card, you opened up an account ". All this time we were trying to get an account and voila here I was getting my own account. It's not what I wanted but we apparently have. Okay, so now I have to go back tomorrow and try to get this pass. I may have to call my new friend at 110 to help me get this since I am not having much luck. Whatever was written on the slip of paper, they didn't quite understand.

Part II

I head to the bank to try and prove my husband wrong and if he's right, to now buy the pass from what he thinks may be our bank account. First, I thought I would check to see if I could get anymore information on this bus pass, so I will call my little lifeline, 110 to see if they could help. Okay, so perhaps yesterday was a fluke? I must have had a lucky day yesterday, because the two different people I spoke to had no idea what I was asking for. First, they thought I wanted to get somewhere by taxi, and explained I needed a bus pass or bus card to take when I'm travelling around Xiamen. Didn't quite catch the concept, and then wanted to know where I wanted to go. After 5 minutes, they thought perhaps that I should call 114, for what reason I don't know.

With my three Chinese books in hand, I headed off to the bank, to finally establish whether I have an account or if what looks like a debit card is an actual bus pass. The gal recognized me and started to laugh. I pulled out my card, with my original request that was written by our friend, and she nodded. Then I pulled out my Chinese character book that had bus and pass to show her what I was looking for. She nodded saying something in Chinese, that resembled a yes, that the card was indeed a bus pass. She pulled out a card similar to what I had, and placed it on the window to demonstrate how you to use it. In case anyone at this time thinks I am idiot, if not, I was starting to feel like one, I get the concept of bus passes, having one of my own back in Chicago, except this card has a stripe on the back similar to the debit/credit cards. We have yet to see where one would actually swipe this card on the bus.

Not convinced yet, that this card is that I am holding is an actual bus pass. So Mark suggests that we try it on the bus and see what happens. We had to go to our travel agency to pay for tickets, so this will be a good test. Okay, so the buses were packed and we were too chicken to try it, so we walked to our agency instead.

Stay tuned for Part III and hopefully the conclusion of the bus saga.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Calling 110....

This morning I had errands that needed to be done since we were out last weekend. First on the list was the rest of the laundry, then I need to pick up some groceries, and clean the apartment along with the floors. With all the construction, the floors are always dusty and we assume it will be this way for the duration of our stay.

I get up all bright eyed and bushy tail to begin my day. Things were progressing nicely and had one little last load of laundry to do. Went to turn the water on, and there wasn't any. Mmmm, I said that's a bit strange since I just put in the last load of laundry. I go to the kitchen, and no water. Okay, this isn't good. So what does any good wife do? Call her husband to see if he can use he spidy powers to make my problem go away. Wishful thinking.

The conversation goes like this, more or less:

"Honey, we have no water"
"Really, that's odd"
"Yes I know, perhaps I will try in a few minutes to see if comes back on, and then go to the management office to see if they know anything"
"Okay, or maybe we were cut off if we didn't pay our water bill"
"Don't you think that they would give us some warning, we gave the bank cash for the utilities".
"Maybe they posted a sign and we can't read it"

I then trot off to the management office to see if I can figure this out. What I do know how to say in Chinese is "boo shway" which basically means no water and hope that they know what I am talking about. As I am making my way to the office the little light goes on. I will call 110 which is a translation number for laowais (foreigners). Chinese are so smart. What a great concept, except we keep forgetting that it's there. We're more for the butchering of their language to see if they can understand us. I managed to get someone who spoke fairly well and handed the phone to one of the people at the management office. Here she explains my plight and the gal responds back and passes the phone to me. No issues she says, they have shut the water off from 9am to 3pm. It has been posted everywhere for the last 3 days.

Seriously, it would help if we could read Chinese.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

More of Hong Kong

Ah...back to our hard beds again. As Mark stated yesterday, we made the decision to walk down the Peak, not realizing it was 1600 feet with steep declines. What Mark didn't say was the number of elderly people walking up to Victoria Peak. We're talking people who were in their 60's and a few brave souls who thought running up to the Peak would be fun. Yea, we thought they were crazy too. We're still feeling the pain of that decision.

Okay, so it has been a long time since I was last in Hong Kong. All of the original junks have disappeared, though a token one is around for tourists, and the deals aren't what they use to be. It seems much cleaner than I remember it as well. One of our favorite things, was to go on the doubledecker trolley cars.

We also discussed purchasing a camera in the near future, as we were going to travel to some places we may never get to again. If we were going to purchase the camera, we figured it we should purchase it in Hong Kong rather than China. We wanted to ensure that we had an international warranty. We looked at a couple of cameras and opted for the Olympus E510, which, according to my dear friend Elaine was a good choice. Of course, it had nothing to do with the fact that she has them as an account. This picture is for you, Elaine.

Victoria Peak

Saturday turned out to be a beautiful day and we wore able to take the tram up to Victoria peak and look around. Somewhere in there we decided that it would be nice to take and make a leisurely stroll back down.
About half way down we realize that after all the walking we had done the night before, that maybe this was just a little too much. You know that the next day is going to be a little rough when you can feel it in your legs, and not to disappoint the both of us felt it a little this morning and started to notice just how many stairways there are in Hong Kong...
But, all in all, it was a great day with the sightseeing, the hiking, and then some good old western food and drinks. I don't think either of us realized how much we missed margarita's, and we both really enjoyed a cheese plate with some wine this afternoon. We also bought and returned with a couple cans of soup, some black beans, mustard, and some chips...
So now we are back at home after a quick weekend in Hong Kong, once again it was nice to get out someplace a little more comfortable in a western style, but it is also good to be back in Xiamen.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Hong Kong

So, after the fun of visas we actually did have a chance to enjoy Hong Kong. We wandered around a few different districts, and then took the Star ferry over to Kowloon bay. Wandered a bit and enjoyed the outdoor markets. A lot of good fake watches and all, it was fun just to browse.
Tina wanted to stop at an oyster and wine bar at the Sheraton, so we wandered up and ordered a nice bottle of wine and an seafood platter. The food was amazing and we had a great view of Hong Kong island and the lights.

While we are eating the music stops and the piped in music starts announcing company names, odd we think, and then realise that all the buildings across the bay have gone dark. As each company is named a building lights up, it was like a band announcing it's group members. And on drums we have the Bank of China building....

After the introduction, we get a laser light show set to music with all the buildings in Hong Kong taking part in it. Really something amazing to see, and to think it was an accident by us. Apparently they do this every night at 20:00, the night before we were sitting in a bar not realising that all this was going on around us. We were lucky to see it, the guide book told us about the view from the restaurant but not about the light show. We wonder if it is something new, at an Irish pub later the waitress tells us that she's been living in HK for 8 years and has never seen the light show.

We met a lot of other ex-pats and travellers, and spent far too long at the pub. Last night we arrived home at 04:00, and somewhere in our travels I lost my ball cap.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Chinese Bureaucracy at its finest…

So, today we awoke nice and early in Hong Kong with what we thought was a simple plan; go over to the Chinese consulate, hand in our updated visa application, and then do some sightseeing while we waited for that to be processed. Easy we thought, and when we awoke the sun was out, which is apparently a rarity in HK, so we hoped that we could take advantage of this and head up to Victoria Peak to enjoy the views.

You’re all laughing now in that you know our day didn’t quite go as planned. True, it didn’t, but in the end we did manage to get our visas and all is well again.

The following story is a somewhat condensed version of our day:

We get our wake up call at 07:30 and proceed to fill out the visa application and gather all of our paperwork ready to take over to the consulate. I check my work emails and send out a few items, then realizing that it’s approaching 08:30 we quickly pack everything up and head out.

It’s a short walk, or so we’re led to believe, over to the consulate so we figure that we can grab breakfast as soon as we hand in our application. They open at 09:00, so we are figuring that if we get there at 09:30 we should be sitting for food by 10:30.

Shortly after nine we get to the consulate, and there’s a line outside the building. Ok, not a great sign but hopefully it will move quickly. Ah, it does move quick, and we are in the elevator heading up within 15 minutes. Upstairs we get a number, 22, and since they are on 9 already we plan for a short wait.

Now, to get an F visa for China you need to have an invitation letter from a company within the country. Jim had written me a letter but because the internet was down most of the day before we left I wasn’t able to pull if from my mailbox and print it out. So I asked Rocky if they could provide one, and he helped me out and printed one for us. At the end of the day I finally had access to my mail again, and quickly printed out the original letter that Jim had written for us.

“Ding”, number 22 flashes on the screen. Ah here we go, now’s when the fun starts, we head up to the counter and hand in all of our paperwork to the girl at the counter. She flips through everything for a few minutes and then starts shoving papers back through the small slot in the window.

“No address, no dates for the stay.”

Ok, I didn’t fill in our address, and hadn’t filled in our length of stay. “I left that blank,” I tell her, “because we need to know what to write to get a 90 day visa.”

“No. Can’t. You only 30 day visas.” She quickly responds, “For longer you need a letter from the Chinese government authorizing it.”

Tina points out that she current has a 90 day visa and it was only good for 2 entries, but that we should be able to get that again.

“No. Different visa agency, different rules. All are different, in Hong Kong you only get 30 day unless you have a government approval letter.”

Ok, we understand, apparently we will still need to leave China every thirty days. “Ok, 30 will do, thanks.”

Now she flips through Tina’s application. “What’s this? You’re going to university? You say on the front that you are here with your husband?”

“Yes, I’m here while he works, and will take classes while I’m here.” This is what I think to be a simple question and answer, but again I’m proven wrong.

“I no understand, you are housewife, you do not go to school. It say’s on application ‘wife’ how can you then tell me you are a student?”

Ah, so these are the options for the women in China – work, study, or be a housewife. Apparently you can’t do both, who knew?

Ok, so a few more discussions about how Tina needs additional paperwork for university, and finally Tina’s just crossing out all the information about schooling on her visa.

Fine, we’re almost done we think, all of her questioning seems to be done when she pulls out the invitation letter and presses it against the glass for us to look at.

“Where’s the stamps?”


“Stamps, stamps! You know that China loves stamps, you need stamps on the letter to make it authentic.”

“But it was a fax, how do I get it stamped?” We had given her both the letters from Jim and from Rocky, and neither had the required stamp. This is when concern sets into my brain, Tina can’t get back into China on her current visa and if we don’t get these today we need to push back our flights so that we can stay until Monday to get new visas. She gives me her fax number and tells me to contact the inviter and have them fax a new stamped letter to her.

So we hop into a taxi to head back to the hotel, call Rocky and ask if he can fax over a stamped copy of the letter to the Chinese consulate in Hong Kong. Luckily he’s near his desk and is able to get this done quickly for us. I ask him to also scan a copy in and e-mail it to me. I print my copy out at the hotel copy center and into another taxi back to the consulate.

In case you’ve lost track of time, it’s now shortly before 11, and if your passport isn’t in their paperwork queue by noon, you’re not getting your passport back in the same day.

Taking from the Chinese playbook, we skip getting a new number and instead march right up to her window and wait behind the person currently talking to her. We haven’t learnt enough as another small Chinese girl managed to sneak in right when the people in front of us left. But she was quick and we were back at the counter where we needed to be.
“A stamped version was faxed to you.” I tell her, she steps back and looks off at something and replies “Nope, no faxes, sorry.”

“Ah, I brought a copy of the stamped copy.” I say, and honestly there was a look of disappointment in her eyes, I think she was hoping to send us away…

She looks at everything again and tells me that mine will likely be rejected and I’ll only get a 6 month visa instead of a one year one. Fine, whatever, I don’t care anymore we just need to get back into China. She looks at Tina and marks hers down for an L visa. “What? She had an F before, she needs an F visa.”
“Why? She’s just a wife, only an L, she doesn’t need to work and she wasn’t invited.”
“Yes, she’s also mentioned on the letter, we would like an F visa.”

She pulls the letter back out and gets that little smile, “It only says ‘your wife’, it needs to have her name. How I know this your wife? I need marriage certificate.”

Ok fine, we concede, we will take an L visa as long as we can get home on Sunday.

Ok,” She say’s putting our passports into the basket behind her, “but she will probably only get a 6 month or a 2-entry visa, very hard for her to get a year long multiple entry. Come back at four today to pick these up.”

Ah, so now we leave and have just over four hours to wonder what visas we will receive. Worst case, Tina gets a double entry 30-day visa and we suddenly need to plan a return to HK in two months…

But, all our worries we for naught and we both received one year multiple entry visas. We can only stay in China 30 days at a time, not as nice as we had hoped, but at least we can go home Sunday.

Sorry for the book, once I started writing it just rolled….

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Off to Hong Kong

Ah, another trip out of China for visa purposes. This time we are heading to Hong Kong because we both need to get new visas and this is the easiest place to get them, and they can turn them around in one day, so we don't have to spend too much time away from home.
Last night we wandered back over to our old temporary home, the Crowne Plaza, and had a few drinks with our friend Roy. It was good to see him and the girls that work there again, it was almost like catching up with old friends that you haven't seen in years.

Vicky showing off a Canada cap

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Travel Agent extraordinaire

I thought I gave up on playing travel agent, but it appears if you want anything done right you have to do it yourself. You wonder why I'm a control freak. I talked to my travel agent to start booking flights to Vietnam over the Chinese Holiday which begins Oct 01 for 7 days. I give her an outline of an itinerary of what we would like to see while we are there, and ask if she can book hotels and perhaps transportation between the central part of Vietnam. She can book the air she says, but thinks it would be best if book the hotels and the ground transportation.

Can you imagine if we said that to our clients?

I filled the past few days figuring out where we want to stay, and what we want to do while in Vietnam. Today, I received an email from my agent advising that she can book the hotels, but we would need to book the ground transportation. Mmmm, one has to wonder how some people would survive in a job back home. I tell her that we have the land figured out, to confirm the air and advise us the process for the visas.

I get the itinerary back, and she changed the middle date because she thought 4 days in Hanoi would be too much. Apparently she thought we might be bored in Hanoi and changed the flights to one day earlier. I too, have at times wanted to change tickets on behalf of my clients, most times it was for a one way ticket, but then I thought better of it. I liked my job.

How I miss having my own CRS system.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Moment of Reflection

I was thinking today, how lucky both Mark and I are. Here we are in China. We keep saying that to each other, probably to acknowledge the fact that we aren't dreaming. Perhaps for the time that we are here in Xiamen, it will always feel like we are in a dream. I began to wonder how rich we both were, oh, not in monetary terms but with life in general. We have our health, as my father always wants to remind us, we have great family and friends who have supported our decision to move to another hemisphere and knowing that some of you will come and visit us here in China. We also know that you are a quick email/call/IM away and we appreciate it.

Why this mushy stuff now? No idea. Perhaps because I had a wonderful, relaxing massage for $7 or thought about our future travels, or I just had a moment where I just wanted to reflect on the past few months.

As I sit here writing the blog for the day, waiting for Mark and Rocky, so that we can go for dinner, I receive a call from Mark, that he and Rocky are taking the shuttle instead of driving, which takes a little longer since the shuttle has to stop to drop other employees off. Okay I said, any reason why? I get this." I don't know, and I stopped trying to understand" and my response back to my beloved was, " Did you have a frustrating day?, in which Mark replied, "don't even ask."

Okay so one of us apparently appreciated living in China today.

Monday, September 3, 2007

China Post.

We really are living in China, as we received our first mail. A nice welcome to your new home card, and a photo of Tina and I with my grandfathers that was taken way back when we visited my home town of Lenox right before the move.

Thanks mom.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Happy Labour Day

Yesterday, we walked a quarter of the island for the hunt of two lawn chairs that we can use to sit out on our balcony. Okay maybe not a quarter but it was close. We walked over 5 miles and the island is only 26. The weather though hot during the days are becoming more bearable in the evening. We went to the Carrefour to see if they had any chairs and didn't have what we were looking for, so we continued on our quest to the Chinese version of Home Depot. They had the chairs, though not exactly, close enough. What they didn't have was the price that we were looking for. Those blue chairs that everyone has back home when you venture out to Ravinia, or for a nice picnic in the park are generally what, $7-$10? In China or at least this store, they wanted $20-$30. That can't be right. Don't they make these things in China, I ask? Everything here is inexpensive, how is it that these chairs are not? Mark just shakes his head in confusion as the table that he wanted for the balcony was a small fold up little guy and they wanted a whopping $60. He then suggests that we try Trustmart, the Chinese version of Kmart? We found the chairs that we wanted and with the price that we wanted to pay, only $7. All is right in the world again. We christened our chairs with a bottle of wine and checking our neighbours apartments out in the next building.

Unlike North America, the Chinese do not celebrate Labour Day, so we hope everyone is having a great long weekend, eating, drinking and laughing.

Chinese nachos?

Saturday we managed to wander over to the Metro and purchase a toaster oven, and we also spent a while perusing their imported foods section. We bought everything that we needed to break in our new kitchen equipment by cooking up a plate of nachos. Yeah, nachos.

We learnt last night that our kitchen is even smaller then it looks, as it was incredibly cramped trying to grate cheese and chop up the onions and tomatoes. We bought a jar of sliced jalapenos and other then the black beans we had everything we needed. The Mexican brought beans back from the states for us, so next time they will be complete.

Our first meal at home in our Chinese apartment, nachos and wine. Does it get any better?

Saturday, September 1, 2007

An enjoyable Friday night...

Ah, a nice Friday night that we can kind of relax, no big plans for tomorrow other then heading over to the electronics mall and then to the Metro for a toaster oven....

I arrive home shortly after seven and Tina had just opened up a nice Argentinian wine. We snack and finish the wine and then shortly after eight head out for dinner.

You'll notice in the picture that the bus doesn't have his lights on, this appears to be standard practice. Occasionally you will see buses with their parking lights on and very few that actually drive with their lights on. It just adds to the daily fun that is crossing a street, after dark it gets just a little bit more adventurous.

Went to dinner at 面, which is short for noodle. Excellent and inexpensive, in the six weeks that we have been here we figure that we've eaten at 30+ restaurants and this is the first one we've eaten at twice. It's that good, for two of us it cost 34元 and neither of us finished all our noodles.

From there we went over to a small bar, 梦田, that we discovered by accident, just a little beer sign and a door. Yes, let's try that. We went in last week but it was early and it was empty. Last night, by the time we went in, the lower level was full.

So we ended up with a table right at the front of the upstairs. We enjoyed a few drinks and enjoyed some jazz music. The night clubs are slightly more expensive, each beer cost 25元, but we figure since that equates roughly to $3.30 and there's no cover that it's worth it.
It was nice just to relax a little and enjoy a nice night, and as an added bonus the workers in the apartment above us didn't start working in the bedroom until almost ten so we got to sleep in....