Thursday, December 24, 2009

...And we're off.

Well it's been a fun two and a half years living in Xiamen, and although our last few weeks have been extremely hectic and busy we managed to get to the airport this morning for our flight down to Hong Kong. We will spend a week in Vietnam - with Christmas and New Year's Eve in Hanoi, and the middle of that time spent taking an overnight train up to Sapa and then doing a home stay.

Our last two nights here were also filled with going away parties - Tuesday night going out with a good group of the people that I've worked with, and who have kept me sane with being able to understand what I'm saying and to then translate it. They were incredibly sweet and we came home with three boxes of Chinese teas that we had to figure out how to pack.

For our final night we met up with friends Howard and Dan at Me & You 2 (of course) to see the sunset one last time (supposedly good but we were late). From there we wandered over to the Sister's for a final meal, meeting up with Yih, Shelly, and Lugas. Shelly presented us with an outstanding tissue holder, and the Sister's presented Tina with a nice shawl. From there it was a quick stroll to Temptations to enjoy a Goh family gift - a sister prepared (Hong) and family delivered (Min and the rest) goodbye Christmas cake - which was outstanding.We tried to finish the night up over at a bar we didn't quite get to often enough during our time here - My Way - so that we could say goodbye to Gino. But Gino wasn't there and Ulf, from Me&You2, had told us that we needed to come back for a goodbye gift. We returned to find Ulf with a bouquet of flowers for Tina along with a bottle of champagne. Problem was, all we really wanted was bed - we muscled through a few glasses, along with a special drink concoction mixed by the bartender, and then wished them luck before we headed home....

So that's it, our China stories are done. Once we get back to Chicago in January we will do some quick updates to talk about Vietnam if we don't get a chance to post while we are there. We will probably also follow up with some China stories that we never quite got around to posting, along with any strange things that we notice as we transition back into life Stateside, before we let our posting on this blog dwindle down to few and far between, if at all.

It's been a great time, thanks to all of you who followed along, we have met some great people, seen some good friends leave, and are now leaving some good friends behind...

2-1/2 years of China in 2-1/2 minutes...

...with a lower quality version for the two of you with dial-up.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Our list ..

As many people leave China, bloggers will often have a list of things that they will miss, and what the won't. Well we're no exception...

Things we will miss:

1. The people - very warm and friendly
2. Ba Shi - 8th market and Alleys
3. Gu Lang Yu, with all of its historical charm
4. The sunsets at Me and You 2, okay so the sangria's weren't bad either
5. Massages, cupping, pedicures, for next to nothing
6. Getting clothes tailor made
7. Very inexpensive
8. Travelling in China
9. Practicing my Chinese
10.Taiji, learning about Chinese culture, people, and history... will miss you Yang
11.Sitting out on our balcony and enjoying the views
12.Great photo opportunities
13.The abundance of fresh fruit here, love the pomelos, oranges, and longans
14.The food- especially the fresh seafood
15.Baozi - steamed bun
16.Ulf's parties at Me and You 2 - usually free beer for 3 hours
17.Bartering, everything is up for negotiations
18.That three winning beer caps gets you a free bottle - usually retrieved and drunk while wandering the alleys.

We won't miss:

1. The spitting
2. Trying to get Chinese to queue up - the saying "Pai dui" came in very handy
3. People throwing out their trash on the streets
4. Expensive wines
5. Western food that tastes like Chinese
6. Rats
7. Mold
8. No heat in the winter
9. Clothes that take forever to dry, and even then they're damp
10.Chinese drivers- who stops in the middle of the road to answer a phone?
11.Great Firewall of China

...and some things we'll never understand:

1.Chinese never want to give you bad news, so they just say.."ok, ok"
2.Women who wear shoes two sizes too big, with two inch heels..
3.No screens on their windows, they have flying cockroaches here.
4.The ability to sleep anywhere at some very crazy locations and positions
5. Winter time, the restaurants will leave the windows open, everyone wears their jackets..ah, close the door.
6. Men using two coin yuan to pluck their chin hairs..thanks, can you do that at home, please?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Seeing the family again.

Last night we had a family gathering as my little sister Min and family came to Xiamen for about a week. Luckily we were still here so that we could spend some time with her since we didn't have the opportunity when we were in Malaysia back in Sept..

Sister Yih made the dinner reservations at a swanky Chinese restaurant, and like all good hosts, booked a private room for about 14 people. She had asked if we could stop by Temptations and pick up the wine for the evening's dinner. Not a problem, since we were coming back from Gu Lang Yu. The wine of course was from their private selection, only the best for her family. Mark had the naughty idea, of exchanging the wines with the Blue Label wines to see if anyone would notice. The Blue Label is a decent wine, but not in the same league as Allen's private stock. I quickly squelched that idea, though it would have been funny to see Yih's face when she saw the bottles.

Not only did we get to see Min and family, we were able to meet Min's brother-in-law and family. The food was outstanding, crab, octopus, crispy duck, along with several other dishes that I cannot remember. After the meal, we went back to Temptations to enjoy more wine and catch up with everyone. While the conversation was entertaining, it was entertaining to all. Some of the kids decided the adult conversation was too boring, and chose to sleep instead.

Sister Min, me, and sister YihCharlotte and dadThe bored kids

It was great seeing and meeting the extended family as it will be awhile before we will see each other again. They were off today to spend the next week touring the Fujian province.

As we said our goodbye's we realized we were also saying goodbye to Temptations, our second home. It had great times there, and though it is soon coming to an end, our memories will continue.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Final Random Wanderings...

The last two days have been some easy relaxing. The temperature in Xiamen is at record lows - about 6C - but since we are pretty much packed we are able to slow down and get in a few last strolls through the markets and alleys, along with a few other places that we felt we needed to get to again.

First stop was to take the bus that Tina used to take every day whilst she was studying at University, there has been a lot of changes to that part of the island with a lot of the older buildings being torn down.
On the bus ride there a car decided to park in front of the bus since the bus had blocked a side road when letting people off. The driver determined that this was a good time to go out for a smoke - you can almost see him in the reflection of the car blocking the bus. Once done he got into a heated argument with the driver who was refusing to move his car - this ended with a passenger getting out and stopping traffic so that the bus could back up and go around the parked car....
Then down to the university area where we wandered the newer buildings and the older cafe's that Tina had visited long ago with classmates, before starting the walk back towards our section of the island. We made sure to take lots of little detours and get some good photos.
There was one whole section when we were walking back that was slated for destruction, actually most of the block had been torn down and only a few building were remaining. Some of them still had people living in them, we ignored the "No Entry" signs (It'd be easy for us to argue we didn't understand them) and went in for some photos.
A good day of wandering, today took us over to Gulang Yu where we wandered some new side streets and made sure to stop at all of our favorite shops - hoping to get some discounts be telling them that we were leaving. That only worked with the tea shop, and the discount wasn't really worth it.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Last hurrah, again...

For the expats that hadn't left Xiamen, a few of us got together, for the last time, at one of our favorite haunts - Coyote.

A couple of friends, believe it or not, had never been, so they have been missing out on their famous margaritas. Tiffany, being a very smart saleswomen, gave them 1/2 picture to try. Smart move, they never went back to beer.

Tiffany showing how to drink margaritas

Mark, Howard, Me and Dan. Howard and Dan, the newbies to Coyote.

Mark, Howard, Polish Ewa, and Dutch Ewa
Kim, Me and Mark
Ewa, Howard, and Me, former classmates at Xia Da
Some more drinking and laughing

Yvonne, Mark and Jasmine
Saying goodbye to a dear friend..

It was great to have one last hurrah, reminiscing of our times together, before leaving China. Hopefully one day our paths will cross again...

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Meeting with our landlord...

Since we are leaving Xiamen on Thursday morning our landlord came down from Sanming to check out our freshly emptied and cleaned apartment. They came in on the train last night, a 6.5 hour ride, and they are taking the overnight train back tonight after they verified that we hadn't totally destroyed the place.

The place all nice and clean.

We have heard, or read, all sorts of horror stories about landlords in China. Stories about them not helping to get things corrected, or most importantly deciding that the security deposit doesn't need to be returned for some small little item. We have friends that we told to move out because the complained about a few items in their apartment. The few times that we called our landlord, for a non-working toilet and a typhoon damaged drying rack, he called up a local maintenance guy and had it corrected. No problems, and the fact that he continued to invite us up to visit them in Sanming we figured that they were different.

They showed up, husband and wife along with Rocky whom I work with and has worked as our impromptu interpreter when we need him. Another guy in a suit followed him so that he could take some photos of the place to try and help them rent it our later, he took a photo of each room and then took off quickly.
July 2007 - when we signed the lease.

The wife just walked around looking and stating "干净" (ganjing for those of you who can't read that, and clean for those of you who don't understand ganjing). They were constantly telling us how clean it looked and how nice it was for us to have cleaned the place up. We had a visit from one of the girls from the main office complex who showed them that we had paid up all of our management fees, but where it looked for a minute like she was telling them we hadn't paid December yet, and a visit from what apparently were some people looking to rent the place next. It was a busy morning, but after about an hour of them wasting time he pulled out a nice thick wad a cash and counted out the full amount of our security deposit.
Rocky posing for a photo as I watch cash being counted for us.

They brought us a gift for being such good tenants, complimented Tina on her outstanding Chinese, told us again how clean it was, and mentioned how they don't want to rent to Chinese people because they are messy tenants. They would be like if Rene (the Mexican) told us he wouldn't hire Mexicans because they are lazy - it's a weird racist statement that's hard to wrap your head around.
Tina, Rocky, Me, Landlords

We gave them keys and showed them paperwork for all of the bills showing them that the two accounts we had for gas and water were all paid up. He tried to give us 110 kuai to cover the cash left in the account, but we refused it saying it would cover the power we were using up now.

Finally a friend of theirs showed up that lives nearby, she will come over Thursday morning to collect our keys when we finally say goodbye, and all she said when she walked in was "干净". She walked into our kitchen and said "Ah, the laowais never cooked." Apparently if you cook you're supposed to leave your kitchen a mess - had we known we could do that and still get our deposit back it would have saved us a few extra minutes of cleaning...

Thinking we are good and thanking them as they thanked us we were invited out to lunch. They took to this as standard Chinese do and ordered more food then can reasonably be eaten. We were full and surprised when they brought out one more dish - turns out they were only halfway through bringing what was ordered. Although we said no a bottle of wine was ordered and we muscled through a lunch that was filled with cheers and "ganbei" (drink it all).

A nice lunch, and continued invites from them for us to visit Sanming when we come back to China. The guy even suggested that we form an import/export partnership once we are settled back in the States. Who knew that a little cleaning would make you such good tenants?

Friday, December 18, 2009

More fun...

Last night was nice in that we didn't have any plans where we needed to see people, so we enjoyed a relaxing dinner at Orange before heading back to our place. That's where the fun really is anyway, since now we need to figure out how to fit what we are bringing back with us into the luggage that we have.
It looked like we set aside a very small amount when we were watching the movers pack everything else up, but not that we are trying to fit it into our luggage it suddenly seems like way too much. Several of the items that we are carrying back are gifts that we will be giving long before our other shipment arrives, such as the small panda in the photo (nobody tell Hannah).

Another thing we kept were some suits that we had made, and Tina felt that I needed to show the jacket to this one off...
It's not really clear in the photo, but it's got a red flame lining in it. We got this idea from another blogger that we are always reading - Shanghai's Woai - and his fashion tips seem pretty reliable. It looks good, and for 600 kaui (about 90 USD) we can't complain. I also had a tie made from the extra lining material that they had.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Farewell dinner...

Now that our movers came to gather all of our belongings, my cooking days have come to an end in China, however, my cleaning duties continue....

Yesterday, since I cleaned underneath the beds, dusted, mopped floors, and did laundry it was nice that we were taken out for dinner.

My taiji teacher, Yang and his family invited us out for a farewell dinner. The choice was Xinjiang restaurant, and one Mark and I have not been to, so it was nice to try something different before leaving Xiamen. The food was excellent. We had beef skewers, spicy chicken with potatoes, meatballs with broccoli, cantaloupe with celery, soup, lamb, beef and bread. Typical Chinese fashion, there was way too much food but it was delicious.

It was great meeting Yang's wife and their 2 year old son and a good time was had by all.
I will miss my classes with Yang, but if we ever come back, I am hopeful that I will be able to get in a lesson or two.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Packing up.

Yesterday morning at 09:00 a two man packing crew arrived and started boxing up our belongings. They worked pretty quickly to move through our main room and bedroom, but then seemed to slow down once they hit the back room and attacked packing up the bikes.
They stopped for lunch and then returned to finish up with packing all of our kitchen supplies. All together it probably took them 4 hours to get everything wrapped, packed, properly documented, and loaded onto a truck.
The guards at the gate didn't want to let them leave, even though we had a letter from our landlord stating that he knew we were moving out. They wanted the letter to be stamped from the complex office, and when I went down there they gave me some grief because we hadn't paid them the management fees for December yet, and they thought that we were leaving that day. Once they knew we would be around for another week it was no problem and off our stuff went to the warehouse to get crated.

When we talked to the move coordinator today we found out that Xiamen changed it's export policy and when they got to the warehouse with all 32 boxes customs asked them how many items were in each box. They spent 4 hours last night opening all of our items to count each item, write it down, and then repack them.

Today we had the fun of going down to customs so that they could spot check through our stuff. At least that's what we thought was going to happen, instead Tina and I spent a few hours watching people fill out paperwork. Tina finally left when we were told that they only needed my passport and signature, and that it would probably be a few more hours before everything was done. Ten minutes after she leaves they gather up all the paperwork and head upstairs where a customs official looks at my passport and then proceeds to stamp their paperwork. "That's it, we are done now." So much for a few hours and looking at items, just a quick glance and everything is all set.

It sounded good but once I got back and started working the phone rang with "We need you to come back so we can look at your passports, we need to verify things..." So about 2 hours later I'm back in another customs building waiting for some guy in a suit to stamp some paperwork.

All set now, our stuff is supposedly waiting to be shipped without any more issues, and we get to relax for our final week in a sadly empty house...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Another Monday Vacation

Since this is our last full week in China time is running out to get things done, and having Monday off turned out to be no different. We were up bright and early so that we could head up to the area that sells bikes and purchase some for ourselves.We have wanted to do this for the last 6-9 months so that we could take the time to bike around and explore some other areas of the island, but we always managed to get sidetracked. Finally since we are out of time the bikes had to be bought, we will have to be happy with the short ride back to the apartment as the extent of our biking in China.

At home we spent some time working on completing the moving sort that we have been slowly working on over the last few weeks. The movers came in first thing on Tuesday, so we needed
to have everything sorted clearly as to what was staying and what is to start on its trip back to the States. Once we got most of that organized we were off to a late lunch and then a quick trek through the markets on our way over to Gulang Yu.
On Gulang Yu we finally made it over to see the piano museum, another thing we have been talking about doing for close to two years. It was worth it, small but amazing to see the progression of pianos through the ages, and the entrance fee includes access to a good sized garden that includes some nice ponds, paths, and a 12 cave rock grotto.
Some more wandering through the beauty of the island and we met up with our friends Dan and Howard for a quick drink to watch the sunset.
Once dark Dan invited us over to see his apartment, since he has been talking about having a party there for at least a year. He's got an amazing place, and although he's on a hill that requires hundreds of steps to get there, the beer was cold (and free) so we didn't complain....
After a quick ferry ride back to Xiamen we made our way over to the Wyndham to visit with Jasmine for what could possibly be the last time, and then planned to return home via the night market so that we could enjoy yet another great meal there.
Alas, the night market only had about half of the normal stalls set up, we aren't sure if this was because it was a Monday or because they presume that it's winter and 24C is too cold for people to head out, but since our favorite seller wasn't there we just headed home and picked up a small chicken sandwich from a new shop that opened just down the street from our apartment...

Monday, December 14, 2009

A night at a charity event.

Now that we are in our final weeks in China our sister Siew Yih invited us to a wine tasting / charity event. They were working to raise money for an orphanage, so we dressed up all nice and headed over to hang out with Yih and Allen and support a good cause.

Yih and I at the start of the night.

They had a sampling of wines from the Hope Estate in Australia, and one of their wine makers came up to explain how their wines are made and what to pair with which kinds of food. The followed this presentation with some dancers.
Then a quick raffle of items - wines and a wine fridge, and back to the dancers.
After that the organized a auction of more wines. Overall they ended up getting about 30,000 RMB (4,400 USD), and one of the guys that bid on a magnum bottle of a nice wine just popped it open and shared it with most of the guests. It was a good time.
Nice, Sara, and Tina enjoying the evening.
A photo of Sara, myself, and Nice.

After that fun, Tina and I decided that we needed to head over to the Oriental Pub, since it was one of the places we used to go when we first moved here and there is not a lot of time remaining for us to visit all of the places we still want to see.

Well, that sounded good but when we got out of the taxi we ran into some of Tina's friends that we hadn't seen since the night before at JJ's heading over to the Londoner Pub. We ended up at the Londoner...