Home at Last!

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[Ah...another unposted draft that I just stumbled upon.  From April 18th, 2011, published June 16, 2011.]

Todd left on March 21st for a 12 day business trip to San Francisco.  He returned home (to Beijing) on Friday.   His 12 day business trip ended up turning into 24 days.  But I am happy to report that the kids and I survived our longest-ever daddy absence.

All I can say is, thank goodness for:

  • skype!
  • our ayi
  • and good friends

We never felt totally helpless or alone, and it was great to be able to Skype with Todd almost daily, but we’re so grateful that he’s home!!!

Yea!!!  Talk about a happy family!  We were all so excited to have him back.  The kids and I had fun making a welcome home banner and a cake for him.  And he had fun pulling out all the gifts he brought home–namely chocolate!–in the form of brownie mixes, hot cocoa mix, chocolate chips, treats from Ghirardelli’s, and bags of chocolate candies!  CHOCOLATE!  (FYI, we can buy chocolate here, just not in the many forms we find it in in the States.  And some things are more difficult to find, and more expensive when you do find them.)  Anyway, what a happy reunion!

- Jill

Boxes, Boxes Everywhere!

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[Post from March 27, 2011, published August 17, 2011.  I'm so bad about posting!]

Saturday morning the boxes started coming.  They loaded the elevator again and again, and plunked box after box after box onto the floor of our apartment, which seemed to be shrinking.  By 10am we could hardly walk through the apartment.  Every time they brought another box I thought surely it had to be the last.  Nope.  Finally, the boxes stopped coming and the workers asked where to start unpacking.  I was clueless.  After some hemming and hawing I decided to at least do the kitchen and bookcases.  There were shelves to put things.  So we set up 3 bookcases and the workers quickly filled them with our books.  Nevermind that the books were upside down and backwards on the shelves, completely unorganized and chaotic looking.  At least they were out of the boxes.  :)

More boxes!

At the same time the bookcases were being filled, I had Todd in the kitchen with another worker to unpack everything they could.  With 5 or 6 boxes to go, all the cupboards and shelves were full.  Uh oh.

I really don’t know how we had so much stuff, even after selling, giving, storing what seemed like 80% of our possessions b efore the move.  Well, no matter how it happened, it happened and I really couldn’t see how we were going to be able to live here!

 

- Jill

Ayi!

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What a great week!  Last week was our first week with our new “ayi.”  (“Ayi” is literally translated as “aunt,” but refers to just about any female hired help–nanny, maid, housekeeper, etc.)  We interviewed a few ayis last month, decided on one, but had to wait until her current finished before she could start.  Wang Ayi (Wang is her surname) is a full-time (semi-live-in) ayi who help with general housekeeping, cooking meals, and occasional childcare.  She’s here Monday morning through Saturday morning, goes home most nights, and stays the night on occasion.  She doesn’t speak English, and my Chinese is limited, so I had Todd give her some general instructions before he left for work that first day.  Basically, clean up after meals, hang the laundry to dry, sweep the floors daily (the dust in this apartment has me longing for New Mexico), and the last instruction–if you see something dirty, you can clean it. :)  The three of us–Wang Ayi, Todd, and I–all chuckled a bit at that last instruction.  For those who have lived with me (which is oddly more than a few), you know there is ALWAYS something to clean in my house. :)

So, last Tuesday we had been in our apartment for about 2 weeks.  We had mostly arranged the living areas, but were (are) still living out of boxes a bit, particularly in the bedrooms.  Wang Ayi asked about all the boxes, and wondered if we wanted to sell them.  We told her that she could do whatever she likes with them.  Her normally smiling face lit up a bit more when she knew she could have them.  (The excitement of trash and cardboard will require its own post.)

When I heard Wang Ayi in Michael’s room (which had so many boxes that you couldn’t walk around the bed) a little while later, I assumed she was emptying the boxes so she could take them.  Imagine my surprise an hour later when I walked by Michael’s room and found that she had unpacked and organized his entire room!  WOW!  I knew at that moment I could never let her leave! :)  And for Todd, the never-let-her-leave moment came when he realized at the end of the first week that he hadn’t seen laundry at the end of our bed in days.  He didn’t make the connection at first and thought I was responsible for getting ALL the laundry put away EVERY  day.  HA HA HA!   I had to ask, “When has that ever happened in the last 12 years?”  (Why is it that I can sort and wash the laundry, dry and fold the laundry…but can’t get it put away??  That last step has always eluded me.)

How did I ever live without an ayi?!  And the bigger question…do I ever want to live without one again? :)

 

- Jill

Cleaning House

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The boys pretty pink room. Complete with Teletubby curtains. Before we painted it, of course. :)

[Playing catch up on the blog.  From March 3, 2011]

After finding a new place to call home, the next step was to make it habitable!  Lots of elbow grease involved in that step.  For a few weeks we were trekking back and forth across the city as a family, from our temporary place to our less temporary place, in order to get it ready before our shipment arrived.  Lots of painting, scouring, cleaning, caulking, more scouring and cleaning, etc.

Look closely. Black caulk, a lot of it. Smells even worse than it looks.

Our poor children.  They helped by wiping down wall after wall.  And when they tired of wiping they watched the same cartoons over and over  in Chinese for a few more hours while Todd and I continued working.  Then a few hours past their bedtime we would drag them out into the cold night and start the 45 minute trip back to the Somerset.  So many times they fell asleep on the subway and we would have to wake them up to transfer to the next one, then wake them up one more time when we reached our station so we could walk the rest of the way home.  In the dark.  And the cold.

Back to the cleaning…Todd pulled up all 3 toilets and reseated them so we wouldn’t be bowled over by the stench from the bathrooms every time we entered our apartment.  (Yep.  It was that bad.)  We held our breath as we scraped the filthy blackened caulk from the bathrooms.  Then held our breath again as we recaulked with new, gleaming white, but probably toxic caulk.  (I don’t think there are agencies, like the FDA, in China to regulate the safety of certain things.  Which is why I assume the caulk fumes were toxic. :)  Or maybe there are, but they’re just not as concerned about these sorts of things??)

While Todd played with toilets I had fun in the kitchen with a butter knife.  The entire kitchen is tiled–walls and floors.  That means there’s a lot of grout.  I don’t like cleaning grout.  And I especially did not enjoy cleaning this kitchen’s grout.  I probably could have deep fried something with the amount of grease I scraped out of the tiles.  Especially right behind the stove.  Eeeewww!  And the caulk behind the stove is a lovely shade of marigold.  I told Todd I wanted to recaulk the counters around the stove and he asked why.

“Because the caulk is yellow.”

“That’s the color it’s supposed to be.”  Nope.  It was originally white.

I could go on for a week about the cleaning, but I won’t.  So, after a few weeks of cleaning, we heard from the moving company one Monday.  Our shipment would be here in 10-14 days.  Great news!  We had one full week, plus another weekend to get everything done.

Surprise!  3 days later Todd got a call at work.  “Your shipment has arrived!  We will deliver it tomorrow.”  Whoa!  Not ready!  We had them wait one extra day, until Saturday, February 19th, to deliver it.  We heard lots of nightmare stores about shipments being delayed, so we were very grateful and relieved that our shipment came so quickly.  But at the same time it grossed us out a little to move our stuff into an apartment that still had someone else’s dirt.  (Why is it that our dirt is never as gross as someone else’s…)

- Jill

Gas & Electric Bills – No More!

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[Found this in my drafts from a month ago, oops - forgot to publish it!]

Any of you ever wished you could just kiss your gas and electric bills goodbye forever?  Well, come move to China!  Turns out that we’ll never receive a single bill for our gas and electric usage.  Sound too good to be true?  Wondering what the catch is?  You’ve come to the right place – here is the 101 on gas and electric bills in China (or at least in Beijing).

My typical experience in the U.S. was that once a month someone came and checked my gas meter, and my electric meter.  They noted the new values on the meters, and then we ended up receiving a bill for the amount used (sound pretty normal?).  Things are done differently here in Beijing, no one comes by and checks how much electricity or gas you’ve used, no one sends you a bill.  So, is it all free you ask?  How does this work?  Well, in our apartment (and in most all apartments from what I can tell), we have an electrical meter sitting directly outside of our front door in the hallway, it looks like this:

Our electric meter is the one on the right, showing we have a bit over 100 units of electricity left.

This meter works in a much different way than meters in the U.S. – it counts down.  The number you see is how much electricity you have remaining until your electricity will just stop working.  It’s up to you to go out and pre-purchase electricity when you need it and add it to your meter for usage.  Smart cards are used for this purpose.  I have a smart card that I take to a 24 hour terminal and the local bank from which I can purchase electricity, gas, water, internet service, amongst others.  I put in my electricity smart card, type the amount I want to buy, swipe my bank card, and the amount is added to my card.  When I return home, I simply insert the card into the electric meter which then updates the amount I have remaining.  Pretty cool ay?

I’m particularly impressed with what seems to be the norm so far concerning most purchases here in China.  Rather than paying after the fact (as seems to be the norm in the U.S. and other countries for many purchases including utilities), you actual purchase things ahead of time before you use them.  It is this way with our electricity and gas, as well as with our rent (albeit rent is typically pre-paid in the U.S. as well).  It might seem like a minor difference (i.e. a one month difference in when you pay), but I think it shows a difference in mindset somewhat between living within your means and living on credit.  Living within your means is the best way to go.

 

- Todd

Engrish – Take 1

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I’ve enjoyed posts from other blogs that highlight Engrish signs, notes, etc… so figured I should help share some of the fun Engrish we’ve seen the first few weeks while galavanting about Beijing.  To start, here is a notice at the breakfast served here at our furnished apartment we are currently at:

Please don't take over the food!!!

They are very protective of their food – don’t want any outsiders taking it over ;)  This next one we saw along the street not far from where we are living:

Put your clothes on light!

Yup, all lights must have clothes in Beijing!  Jill had already posted this one, but just to include it in this Engrish post for your enjoyement, here is the wonderful wheat smell breakfast:

Yummy, wheat smell breakfast!

Last (for this post anyhow), I’d like to share something I ran across yesterday afternoon while at a “Temple Fair” (庙会) in Beijing.  These Temple Fairs held at Buddhist Temples remind me of county fairs back in the U.S. minus the carnival rides.  They do have all the rigged games though, where it is next to impossible to win that large stuffed animal.  To play these games though you first have to purchase tokens, and are confronted with this sign at the token booth:

So, that will be ten money three, and it won't be retail, ok?

I must say that after reading the English side multiple times, I was at a loss for what they were trying to convey.  A perhaps more readable English translation would be “10 yuan for 3 tokens, tokens have no retail value and are non-refundable.”

Enjoy the Engrish ;)

- Todd

Food!

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Mmm…I love food!  (Did you know that?)  I think food is one of the “biggies” that defines a culture.  (By the way, I am SO glad I love Chinese food!  I would sure be in a heap of trouble if I didn’t.)  Because I am interested in food I like to assume everyone else is.   Here is our food experience so far.

EATING IN

We are fortunate to be in a serviced residence while we wait for our shipment to arrive.  This means we have a

Baozi, sweet ones. The kids LOVE these and eat them as treats several times a week.

cute little kitchen with some basic cookware.  Phew.  I have the privilege (you heard me) to cook at home and help our bottom line, and I’m sure it doesn’t hurt our waistline either. :)  I think eating out every meal would be torture for the super-thrifty-penny-pincher in me.  Don’t get me wrong, I love to able to go out occasionally, but it’s something I plan and save for; it’s a treat.

So most days we eat at home, and rarely is it American food.  The ingredients are just harder to come by here (see banana bread post :)), and if you do find them in the international section of the store you can guarantee it will be double the cost of anything local.  So I usually cook up some meat and/or veggies in a skillet (since I don’t have a wok) and serve it with noodles or rice.

Chopping garlic stems for dinner. Super tasty!

You know, it’s surprising how many different meals one can conjure up with the same basic ingredients!  The one repeat we have is one of my all-time favorite foods–fried rice.  I LOVE FRIED RICE.  It’s not just a China thing.  I have loved that stuff for years and years.  I make it at home, order it at Chinese restaurants.  I can (and do) eat buckets of that stuff.

EATING OUT

So, what did we eat our first night in Beijing???  McDonald’s!  Ha ha ha.  Ridiculous, but true.  We hadn’t gone to the store yet and didn’t have food.  Anyway, the kids enjoyed the food, and the locals enjoyed our kids enjoying the food.  (Have I mentioned the attention we get taking 5 kids out??)  We also had Pizza Hut (Chinese-style pizza sans sauce) delivered one night.  Here’s something fun that I bet you didn’t know.  Pizza Hut is not the only place that delivers here.  McDonald’s does too.  Kinda fun.  We ordered ice cream last week and had it delivered.

McDonald's ice cream--delivered. Cheers!

We’ve heard that many other places deliver here as well, including the local Carrefour (European Wal-Mart-type chain).  I’m seriously tempted to have my groceries delivered from there!  It would sure beat trudging home with heavy bags in that biting Beijing wind.

Last week Joe and Carrie (new friends who live in the same temp housing) treated our family to dinner.  What a nice thing!  I am truly humbled when someone does that because our family is NOT small.  I didn’t realize that was what was happening until we started to order.  Anyway, they took us to a great little dumpling (jiaozi) place just a few subway stops from home.  Besides the yummy food and great company, one of the neat things was getting to watch the dumpling-making process.  At first glance it looks like a team of surgeons–masks and all–performing a delicate operation behind glass. :)

The delicate surgery of...dumpling making.

Fancy dumplings topped with shrimp.

Die hard dumpling fan.

The 2nd weekend we were here Yugeng’s family invited all of us out to dinner.  (Still can’t believe people bring our big ol’ family to dinner!!)  Wow.  A teppanyaki style,  ten course meal.  Ten.  No exaggeration.  One of the nicest things was that we had our own room.  With 5 kids, that is a really great thing. :)  And the dinner–it was delicious, entertaining, beautifully presented, and darn it all I forgot my camera!  The kids are still talking about that meal, more than 2 weeks later.  I guess it left an impression on me as well, since I can still probably list each dish.  Memory test.   Ready, go:

  1. Appetizer of sushi
  2. Green salad with lip-smackingly good strawberry dressing
  3. 2 different soups, but I don’t know what they would have been called
  4. Fish with a potato-soup-type sauce
  5. Custard-like egg dish, cooked and served in egg shells, topped with pork bites and caviar.  (Ok, I have to find a picture of this one, because it looks so unique.)
  6. Shrimp–can’t remember how it was served, but I remember loving it.
  7. Steak, cut into juicy little bites and dipped in a super savory seasoning
  8. Baby somethings (sprouts? mushrooms?) rolled in paper-thin sliced beef (I think?)
  9. Sauteed mixed vegetables–cabbage, summer squashes, onions–I think?
  10. Fried rice
  11. Fresh, sliced and diced melons and fruits (Ok, so there were 11 including the fruit.)

I thought, “Wow, NOW I’m full,” before each of the last 6 courses.  They just kept coming!  Every time our chef started to throw a new dish on the grill the kids’ jaws dropped a little more and their eyes got a bit wider.  It was unbelievable.  I didn’t think we’d need to eat again for a week after we rolled out of there.  I’ve been treated to some really nice dinners, but that one just may take the cake!  Thank you, Sun family!

GROCERY SHOPPING

I think I mentioned our first trip to the store.  We had Michael take the pictures for us.  We thought it might be less conspicuous and strange than having adults do it.  Fine, I admit.  I was too embarrassed. :) Pictures, courtesy of Michael and Kaylee Ann.  (Next time I’ll have them snap a picture of the hanging pigs. :))

"Wheat smell breakfast" Mmm...makes my mouth water.

Fish, photographed by Michael.

Kids and fish.

We’ve done the regular store thing, Carrefour, and we’ve also done the little outdoor stands.  Todd occasionally buys fruits and veggies from a little vendor just around the corner.  His latest purchase was “huo long guo,” literally translated as “fire dragon fruit.”  YUMMY!  This was a huge hit with the family.  That’s all for now folks.  Until next time!

Huo long guo (fire dragon fruit)

- Jill

Beijing Apartments – A Foreigner’s Perspective

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Just wanted to add my two cents to Todd’s post.  You must remember, Todd lived in Taiwan (very much the same culture as China) for two years. It’s easy to forget how different things are.  Once you’ve been somewhere for a while, you just don’t see those differences anymore .  As a new missionary in Taiwan, someone told him, “If you see something interesting you better take a picture now, because it will seem normal in a month.”  Hopefully I can point out the things I’ve noticed, before it’s too late! :)

When searching for an apartment I decided long ago that I did NOT want to live in an expat area, a little “Westerntown” (akin to “Chinatown” in the U.S.).  I didn’t want to live in a little bubble for foreigners, where everyone speaks English and western stores and restaurants are around the corner.  No thanks.  We have the rest of our lives to live there.  Right now I want to experience China, have Chinese neighbors, shop at Chinese stores, learn the language, and live like a normal Beijinger.  (Mostly.  Having 5 kids is already a guarantee that we are anything but normal here.)  Anyway, I thought that upscale Chinese housing would be a good fit for us.

So, what is typical Chinese housing like in Beijing?  Of course the quality varies from uninhabitable to fit-for-an-emperor,  but typical Chinese housing has some common elements.  First, apartments.  Small, urban, high-rise apartments. (Someone asked me how the “house” hunting was going.  Sorry, no houses here.)  They sometimes have elevators, and never have carpet.  Flooring is usually wood, laminate, or tile.

Kitchens are tiny, with no dishwashers, no ovens, and non-potable water.  (The Chinese don’t bake; they steam and fry.  And you boil the water, or buy bottled.)  Kitchens are not the big “showrooms” that they are in the states.  In fact, the kitchen is generally a small, out of the way room behind a closed door.  Yeah, kitchens have a door.  Oh, and I haven’t found a lot of really “clean looking” kitchens here.  When looking at one apartment, I asked about the kitchen, asked if they were going to clean it.  “Why?”  “Well…because…it’s dirty.”  “Oh, ha ha ha.  Chinese kitchens are dirty because of the smoke, you know, from cooking in them.”  Like, duh (is the vibe I got).  Uhh…ok.  I guess kitchens in the states are clean because we don’t cook in them…?

Bathrooms in modest apartments consist of a completely tiled room (floor and walls) with a toilet in one corner, sink in another, shower head on one wall, and a drain in the middle of the floor.  So, when you shower, the entire room gets wet.  An upscale apartment will have an enclosed shower.  (Yep.  We’re high class–3 bathrooms, each with enclosed showers!  Fancy schmancy.)

You’ve probably heard of squatty potties.  Indeed they are very common in public restrooms, but most private residences here have western toilets.  We didn’t see squatties in any of the places we looked at.  (Although I did see some toilets that I wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole, much less set my exposed backside on!  Blech!  The thought alone gives me the heebee jeebees.)

Washing machines are very small and dryers are a rarity.  There is usually a small room, like an enclosed porch, to hang your laundry to dry.  If it’s a nicer room, there’s a cool rack on the ceiling where you can rotate the clothes, and windows that open so you can swing the laundry out into that yummy Beijing air to dry in summer! :)  (Driving through the city, you’ll see laundry hanging everywhere in the summer!  EVERYWHERE!)  So anyway, when you go to look at an apartment they point out the bedrooms, the bathrooms, the kitchen, the hang-up-the-laundry-to-dry room, etc.  So the hang-up-the-laundry-to-dry room is one of the typical rooms in a Chinese apartment.

Okay, I think that’s it, in a (really gigantic) nutshell.

For your viewing pleasure, here are some pictures of our current apartment (just so you can see how good we have it this first month) and then some of the new apartment complex we’ll be moving to shortly.  (If you want to see pics of the inside, see Todd’s last post.) Enjoy!

- Jill

Apartment hunt, check that off the list!

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[Warning, this post got a little long-winded, I apologize in advance. Next time I need to write a bit more often in between post's it seems, as I still feel like I've left out quite a bit :)]

Photo we found online of the artwork at the center of our apartment's community.

The search is over… we’ve found our permanent apartment (at least for the next year) after a couple weeks of hunting. We are thrilled to begin moving into the apartment during and after the Chinese New Year as we’ll then be able to start settling into life here in Beijing. So, let me take you back to the start of the hunt.

Early last week, after my first or second day at work, I figured it was time to begin the hunt. Where to begin though? I wasn’t really sure, so I started asking around – new colleagues at work, new friends we’ve just met at church, and of course – the internet. Not all routes were equally fruitful. Most of the friends we met at church did not live near my work, and we’ve decided that we want to live closer rather than farther away from my work (all else equal). The internet seemed promising, with websites such as http://beijing.anjuke.com/ or http://beijing.haozu.com/ having the ability to search for exactly what we want – albeit in Chinese. I spent quite some time scouring these sites, using google translate built into Chrome to hasten the process. Found several places that looked promising, and decided to make some phone calls.

Once I brought some local real estate 中介(zhōngjiè or agent – you’re new word for this post) into the picture, things started getting more interesting. I typically am very trusting of individuals, I give them the benefit of the doubt. From my colleagues at work though – I was warned that you cannot trust the real estate 中介’s in Beijing – but also got the message that you really had to work with them in order to locate and rent an apartment. So, what to do? Well, after all is said and done, I ended up talking to about five different 中介’s – here is a recap of that experience.

中介 1: I decided I might as well start calling, even though warned by colleagues it would be best to let them help with the calls. I wasn’t quite comfortable asking for such help yet (1 or 2 days on the job, so barely getting to know them as well). Plus, why not use this as a learning opportunity, should be fun, right? Well – I called the number on the listing and started to explain my situation, and how I found an apartment online with their name/number. After fumbling on many phrases, I eventually explained sufficiently (or so I thought) which apartment it was I was calling about. The gal on the line was seemingly kind, and said she’d look into it and get back with me. I gave her my number, but never heard back? Ahh well…

中介 2: After calling 中介 1, I also called another one I found online. We’ll call this individual 中介 2. He also took some information from me, seemed to not be interested at all in the link I was calling about online, but said that he’d like to set up some apartments for me to look at in the next day or two, so I agreed, leaving my email address as well as our phone number to the hotel. The next day I was talking to someone at work about my phone experiences and they were worried that I was directly calling them w/out help – and she ended up introducing an agent to me that she had used, thus onto …

中介 3: Kimberly was introduced to me by a colleague that had used her previously, she specialized in helping foreigners find housing in Beijing, and came highly recommended. I talked to Kimberly on the phone about our needs, and then met with her for lunch also at work. It was obvious that Kimberly was a woman on the go – always moving, getting work done, etc… I was grateful for the information she gave me – she talked me through (albeit at lightning speed) things such as how many months deposit places typically want (1,2, sometimes 3) plus the typical pay schedules (some ask 2 months at a time, some 6, some a whole year…). Also helped introduce me to the community fees sometimes required, and a few other tidbits I’ve already forgotten (or perhaps went in one ear – then 听不懂‘d [pinyin]ting1bu4dong3[pinyin]). In the end though – once she found out how much (or how little) I was wanting to spend on an apartment, she realized that she didn’t know areas that fit our needs, and I suspect that she also was contemplating the fact that she wouldn’t get the money she typically does out of the work required to book an apartment for foreigners in Beijing. (the 中介 typically gets 1 month rent out of helping find the apartment, etc…)

中介 2 returns: Meanwhile, #2 continued to work hard behind the scenes, looking for places for me to see. I actually went out 1:1 with him on 3 separate occasions (actually brought the whole family on one – read on). He spent quite a bit of time helping look for places that would work for us, and for that I’m grateful. There was one location in particular that I became interested in – it was for 7500元 per month located up north on line 13 of the subway/train system here in Beijing. It was a four bedroom two-story apartment on the 6th/7th floor of this particular apartment building. I decided to bring Jill out to see it, but we couldn’t find / figure out who would babysit, so decided to bring the whole family out. We braved the subway system with all 7 of us, and eventually made it there. On this particular trip, another colleague of mine who happened to live in the area came and picked us up at the subway station and helped bring us to the apartment complex. We all liked the place quite a bit, but my colleague afterward told me he thought it was overpriced. He owned a home in the area, and he wanted me to look at some other places there with the 中介 that he had used when purchasing his home. Someone who knew the area, and who he trusted. So, onto…

中介 4: The very next day I went back out to the area with Yuxiang (my colleague), and looked at a place that was available for only 5000元 per month. It was also four bedrooms, and similarly on the top floor of that particular apartment building. Sounded VERY promising – and would save us tons from what we had been budgeting for our apartment expenses. We went to this apartment, and well – while it was big enough, and at the right price, it needed quite a bit of work to make it feel like a home. One of the main issues for me was the bathroom – it had corrosion all over the base of the toilet, and tiles missing near the showering area (this was a more typical Chinese style bathroom – with the shower just in the wall of the bathroom, and the entire bathroom tiled). I asked the owner (who was there) if he’d fix this – and he looked at me as if to say, “What’s there to fix?” Anyhow – it was obvious that what was something that he was fine living with, and something that we wouldn’t want to.

The next day I brought Jill back to see this apartment (just in case my intuition on how she would feel about it was wrong – because it was a GREAT deal from a cost perspective). She pretty much agreed with my assessment, but we were still considering it in case we couldn’t find anything else. This 中介 had also set up for us to visit two other apartments that evening, so off we went.

The first of these two new ones was very large – 5 bedrooms and approximately 250 square meters of living space. It was also had a lot of built in wooden storage and nice wooden features throughout that just looked nice. It had just been used by a business though, and had several things that would need repairing before we’d be willing to move in (for example – an outlet in the bathroom hanging out from the ceiling directly into the shower area… think about what a shocking experience that shower would be). Also – there was not very much furniture, and the owner seemed extremely hesitant to furnish it for us – meaning we’d have to fork out some 元 for beds, couches, tv’s, pretty much everything. Even so though – this was a nice place, and Jill really really liked all the storage it had. They were asking 7000元.

The last apartment we visited that night was on the 19th floor of a building in a very nice and newer community (about 4 years old). They were also asking 7000元.  Out of all the apartments we had seen, the community of this one easily looked cleaner, newer, and in better shape by far than all the others. Another bonus – this one actually had an elevator (none of the others had)! I found out that only apartments higher than 7 stories require elevators to be installed. The style of this apartment was more modern (which wasn’t necessarily a good thing for Jill – she liked the more traditional style better, felt more cozy and homey). It also had five bedrooms, two small ones, a medium sized, and two larger. It lacked the storage as well that the previous one had, although not completely devoid of it. I personally felt this would be the place for us after walking upstairs to the deck. The 20th floor was the top, and this one had a quite large deck with a decent view. I could already imagine BBQ’s this summer :) Another positive – there is an elementary school in the community itself – and I learned from the owner that this school had accepted foreign students in the past. Anyhow – we’ve decided to move forward on this apartment, and are excited about beginning the process of settling down!  Ohh, one more thing–Yuxiang (my colleague from work) was able to help negotiate the monthly cost down to 6500元 so all is looking great :)

Here are some photos (taken from a camera phone, some in low light… pardon the low quality) I took when doing a walkthrough night before last (right before giving an initial 3000元 down to hold the place). We’ll hopefully be in and ready in a few weeks, so start making plans to come visit – we’ve got space and would love to have visitors :)  I’ll post better photos once we’ve cleaned the place up, moved in, and well – have the time to take and post them.  For now these will have to do:

Until next time ;)  That’s all fer now!

- Todd

Week 1 – Food, Fun, Phone, and Freezing Our Fannies Off

Posted by Jill,Tags: ,
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Exquisite gift from Yugeng's family (our exchange student). Bigger than it looks in this picture. Notice it takes up a third of our dining table?

[Note to reader: my picture gallery is driving me bonkers.  Please ignore the duplicate pictures.  Can't figure out why it won't cooperate. :(]

Hello from Beijing!  We’ve been here 1 week!  Here’s a recap by topic. :)

WEATHER.  I’m excited.  I just checked the weather and tomorrow will be a balmy 36 degrees Fahrenheit!  We’ve been here 1 week today, and this will be the first day with a high above freezing.  Yea!   Highs have been in the twenties–and that’s normal for this time of year.  Eek.

BANANA BREAD(-ISH).  I was feeling a little adventurous in the kitchen today.  My overly ripe bananas had been begging me to do something with them for a couple days.  So, I made Banana Sour Cream bread.  Sort of.  I had to improvise.  I didn’t have a mixing bowl or bakeware of any sort.  (We won’t get our shipment until we’re in our permanent place.)  I had about half of the ingredients, and then made do with 5 substitutions:

  • sour cream: plain Chinese style yogurt
  • white sugar: soft white sugar.  It’s white but has the consistency of brown sugar.  Never seen anything like it until now.
  • baking soda: umm…I couldn’t find a suitable substitute.  Just decided to be okay with “unleavened” bread :)
  • vanilla extract: almond extract.  glad I tucked it in my suitcase full of spices!
  • nuts: didn’t have any, oh well.

So, besides those ingredients I had everything else!  Ha ha!  It was definitely different, but still yummy enough that the kids and I devoured it at snack time.  Todd’s comment, “Wow.  It’s very….Chinese!”  Thanks! I think?

 

FOOD.  I am so glad that I like Chinese food!  Actually, I’m glad that most of our family likes Chinese food.  The kids are totally digging the noodles, dumplings, and steamed buns.  We promptly bought a new rice cooker when we arrived.  It has a steamer basket inside so we can cook our frozen dumplings and buns.  Yea!  And if you haven’t heard, your rice cooker can also double as a mixing bowl when you need to make banana bread.  :)

The breakfast menu, in order of frequency eaten: yogurt (drunk through a straw), baozi (steamed stuffed buns), toast, oatmeal, jiaozi (dumplings).  We have 2 tickets for breakfast each morning, and the lucky 2 people who eat at the buffet get to choose from lots of Chinese food with a few western things thrown in for good measure–namely cereal, toast, and bacon.

For lunch it’s noodles, fruit, and an occasional peanut butter sandwich or jiaozi.  Dinner is whatever I can scrounge together from our meager ingredients.  (I forgot how hard it is to start a kitchen from scratch.)  Chao fan (fried rice), jiaozi, baozi, rice, chao mian (fried noodles),  soup, McDonalds.  Yes, we did McDonald’s once right after we got here since we hadn’t been to the store yet.  Which leads me to our outings…

OUTINGS.  Now those are fun!  Ok, and a little scary.  Todd and I have 4 hands between us, and 5 kids.  No way to hang on to all the hands when we’re out and about.  So I find myself constantly counting heads, making sure everyone got on the subway, off the subway, on the escalator, off the escalator, across the street, in the building, on the elevator, off the elevator, out of the way of the crazy taxi drivers.  You get the picture.  And it’s great having a herd of kids with us.  With 2 children, people stare.  Wow!  Two kids!  “Liang ge xiao har!”  (Not sure how to spell “har.”) So we come along with our troop, see people counting, then hear them ask “4 kids!?!”  Then we get to say, “No…five!”  (Somehow they always miss one.)  Ha ha!

Bundled up!

Because it’s the dead of winter we bundle everyone up in 3 or 4 layers, and complete their already-poofy outfits with hats, coats, and mittens.  If the wind is blowing that’s really not fun.  It cuts right through those layers, and I feel like I can hardly smile sometimes because my face is frozen.  (Guess we need to get something to cover our faces?)

On the way to the store.

We walked to McDonald’s last Friday evening, walked to the grocery store on Saturday, and took the subway to church on Sunday.  Taking the subway also requires a little walking, so the girls and I wore pants to church and changed into our dresses in the bathroom after we arrived.  Fun stuff. :)  The trip to church is about 45 minutes on the subway, but we’ll need to leave a bit earlier so we can change clothes and comb out everyone’s hat hair after we arrive.

CELL PHONE.  Ug.  Almost forgot about this experience.  Kind of wish I could.  Todd was so nice.  He went out last Saturday evening and spent hours in the tech district shopping for a cell phone.  Well, he brought home this shiny, red smart phone on Saturday night.  Spent a lot more money on it than I felt we had.  And gave it to me!  Wow!  My cell phone is going to be my lifeline!  It has directions and maps, Chinese dictionaries and translators, people’s phone numbers in case I get lost.  Yeah, can’t live without it.  Needless to say, I felt pretty special.  So special that I left that shiny new phone in the bathroom at the church building the following morning.  (FYI, we attend church in one area of a building that is open to the public and houses other things.)   Well, no big deal.  I realized it while we were on the subway home.  We got home and quickly called back to the church and talked to someone there.  “Yeah, if you leave your cell phone somewhere, you can kiss it goodbye.”  Sure enough, we tried calling it and it had been turned off.  Someone had already pulled the battery.  I owned it for a whole 12 hours. :(  So, I’m still without a cell phone, and haven’t ventured out without Todd because of it.  I can say “oh well” now, but on Sunday I felt totally sick over it and had to cry it out of my system.  At least I have the box to look at…? :)

There’s so much more I should write, but I’ll have to save it for my next post.  Zai jian!

- Jill