Sunday, September 30, 2012

Traveling Woes

I wish I had a really awesome picture of a packed subway to go along with this post...oh wait...I do!   Ok, this picture isn't really that bad.  Usually it can be a lot worse - like you can't move your arms there are so many people.  But when it's like that it's hard to take a picture!  Traveling in China doesn't always go the way you plan.  There's too many variables.  The bus being on time, room on the bus, being able to catch a cab when you need to.  The list is endless for things that can go awry when traveling in China.  Take for example, my weekend excursion about two weeks ago.  

My friends and I were going downtown to find a store that sold specialty baking items.  We got on the bus and headed downtown.  It took about 30 minutes on the bus to get there.  We then had to go into the subway station, find the correct exit number (to get us on the right street) and walk about 3 blocks to the store.  Find the entrance to the building, take the elevator and finally arrive.  In total, it probably took us 45-50 mins to get to the store from my apartment, which really isn't bad.

We bought some necessary and fun items and then headed back to the bus stop.  After 20 minutes of walking, we got there and waited for the bus.  And waited for the bus.  And waited for the bus.  Sometimes it can take up to 15 minutes for your bus to come, but this bus normally comes every 10 minutes or so.  After 30 minutes of waiting (yes, we waited that long), my Chinese friend asked someone about the bus.  "Oh didn't you hear?  There is a parade."  Um...okay.  What does that mean?  The Chinese word "parade" can mean many things: lots of people in the street, a demonstration or an actual parade.  It was actually a demonstration.  The entire downtown square was packed with people and the bus couldn't get through.  The funny this is that we walked right past all the people on our way to the bus stop and all of us thought they were all jaywalking in the street!  Seriously, we had that conversation.  Anyways, long story short, we had to walk back to the subway and take it about three stops away from the city center and then caught a bus, taking us an hour and a half to get back home.  

Last night is another great example.  Steven was going to dinner and billards with a friend so I decided to do some grocery shopping.  It is October holiday right now (Mid Autumn Festival) and everyone is either leaving the city to go back home or arriving in the city returning home.  All to say, there are lots of people traveling everywhere.  

I left the apartment around 6:00pm to catch the bus.  I had to literally push the girl in front of me to get on the bus because it was so packed.  At the next stop, the people getting on behind me push me forward as I push people forward.  Let's just say, it got really, really packed!  I arrived at Carrefour, got my shopping done (after finding out they don't have mozzarella cheese anymore - sad day!), and take my three bags out to the curb to catch a taxi back home.  There is no way I'm getting on a bus at this point with all my groceries, so I stand for 10 minutes outside Carrefour trying to get a cab.  I did not see one open cab, not one.  Thinking my luck will be better down at the corner, I lug my groceries down there and wait another 15 minutes before finally getting a taxi.  And it wasn't even raining.  

Everyday is an adventure (really, it is), and traveling in China makes for the perfect opportunity for something to go wrong and the adventure to ensue.  Oh, and I've learned that you should always give yourself at least 15 minutes more time to get somewhere than you think it will take.  Chances are you will need that extra 15 minutes, even if Google maps says otherwise. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Happy Birthday Shenanigans

Today is the Hubby's birthday.  He didn't really ask for anything [yet] this year.  I think we are still trying to survive the move.  Although he did say he wanted a pair of "slip on type" shoes since you take your shoes off before entering someone's home in China and he's getting weary of tying and un-tying his shoes.  After sending him about 15 links to shoes on Amazon, he asked me to stop.  I was just trying to be helpful!  So, instead I splurged and spent $9.82 on a box of Kellogg's Raisin Bran for him.  He was excited (and then a little shocked when he found out how much it was).  Taobao is amazing!  (I am not adept enough to order on Taobao on my own quite yet, however I have some awesome friends who help me.)  For those of you who do not live in China, Taobao is like Amazon and Ebay rolled into one.  You can order almost anything at competitive prices and have it delivered to your home.  

Tonight, we went out to Papa John's and Dairy Queen.  Quite the treat!  I think this weekend we may plan a hiking excursion up Purple Mountain to commemorate the Hubby turning the big 2-9.  He has simple requests and though I tend to want to throw a party, I can live with simple right now.

This morning the girls on our staff got him a cake complete with a fiery candle.  Seriously - it was crazy (check out the video below).  It did take us a good minute to figure out how to light the candle.  It had this "lighter" that looked more like weird.  And then the candle started playing the birthday song after being lit and continued to play for over 2 hours.  Finally, the Hubby disabled said candle by pulling it apart until he found the battery.  Oh, China!  You never cease to amaze.

Happy Birthday to my amazing husband.  I love you so much and am truly blessed to be your wife!

**I apologize in advance for the first 1:30 of this video not being too exciting...

Monday, September 24, 2012

Chinglish Monday #2

This Chinglish translation makes me a little nervous to be buying cotton balls.  It was one of those "double take" moments.  

The print is a little small to read (but I wanted you to be able to see it really is cotton balls), so if you can't see it well the package says "tampons".  Um...yeah...

Monday, September 17, 2012

Chinglish Monday

I've decided to establish a norm here on the blog and take a moment to share a bit of "Chinglish" with you each Monday.  What is Chinglish?  Well, technically it is a combination of Chinese and English, but for us, it is poor translations (or really funny ones!) that we see everyday.  Here is our first edition, seen on the subway.

Apparently, only they are allowed to say and/or do that. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

What we have been up to...

I can think of a million to things to write about...but that would take me a very long time!  And I'm sure you all don't want to read through a book.  So I will give it to you in pictures, because, as we all know, each one is worth a thousand words.  

Let's see, what have we done so far...

Shopping, lots and lots of shopping.  This is how to get to the grocery going down!  The Hubby wanted to take this picture of the man pushing all the carts on the moving ramp (like an escalator, but flat).  One of his favorite things about China are their shopping carts (I know, weird), they spin on all four wheels and are magnetic so they "stick" to the ramps!  Since it is so crowded here, many of the stores are below ground.  This one, Carrefour, has some import stuff like pasta, pasta sauce and cornflakes!  Carrefour also has butter, cheese and milk that the Hubby approves of (he's kind of a milk snob).  

We got an electric scooter.  The picture above is actually what happened while we were getting our scooter.  Our friend was helping us and the local TV station came over to interview her on why her foreign friends were buying the scooter, how much it was, how fast it could go and if she would buy a similar scooter.  My favorite part was that she had just started eating a cracker, and so her mouth was full the entire interview!  It was an adventure.

We did end up buying that electric scooter.  It can go 70km on one charge & will get up to speeds of 25mph!  Yup, she's a thing of beauty.  And the Hubby loves driving her around town.  Every chance he gets, "do we need to take the scooter?"  To our friends, "can I give you a ride home on our scooter?"  I have yet to drive it.  Lessons will come & I'm sure a very entertaining blog post will follow.

Coffee flavored Pocky & Chinese coffee.  Enough said.  This is truly the breakfast of champions.

And I got a coffee maker!!!  Hallelujah!  In China, there are several websites you can order from and they deliver (like ebay, but cooler).  There's a local store online that delivered this baby to my door for 230RMB.  Sweet.  And my dear friend who we inherited our apartment from was kind enough to leave a coffee grinder.  So thankful!  You may all start sending me coffee.  Seriously, I can't afford to buy coffee in China.

We went shopping at Ikea and bought this awesome table & 6 chairs...

And this couch!  It's nice to have something to actually sit on at home. :-)  I also just discovered that Ikea has an iPad app with their store catalogue on it - watch out!  

We had to pay a small fee (like $1), to get our mailbox lock changed so we could use it (we didn't have a key).  We opened the mailbox to find six years worth of mail!!  No, I'm not kidding.  Our friend who lived here before just used to grab her stuff off the top and pull it through the small slot.  Too funny!  Anyone want a newspaper from 2006? 

Last night we had our first volunteer meeting for the leadership forum we partner in running.  There were several options for snacks to serve to the students.  We ended up getting Oreos, crackers and chips.  The flavors of chips here are, well, different.  If you can't read the picture well, the two flavors listed above are Mexican Tomato Chicken Flavor and Italian Red Meat Flavor.  I think we ended up getting the Mexican flavored chips and, no, I didn't try them.

Today, the weather was gorgeous and I ventured out with some friends to find a baking shop.  This is at a plaza near downtown.  Blue skies!  What an awesome day.  Thankful for great weather and great friends to share an outing with.  Tonight we are off to meet up with some other friends to [finally] see the new Batman movie.  Yay! 

So there you have it.  A little update in photos of our time here so far.  What have all you been up to?

Saturday, September 8, 2012

When it all hits the fan, the blades come down

I'm sure you are all curious as to how things are progressing with our neighbors.  Well, they sure are progressing!  Apparently, the neighbors upstairs are so unhappy that they have started spreading malicious rumors about our landlord.  In America, this might happen and we would argue against such rumors.  Since the US is a justice-based culture, rumors that aren't true are argued and proven to be not true.  In China, it's a different ball game.  China is a shame-based culture and the concept of "saving face" runs deep in Chinese culture and defines many of their relationships.  Thus, in China, malicious rumors cannot be met be argument alone.  The person "losing face" (in this case, our landlord) must do what one can to stop the rumors and appease the opposite party.  I do not fully understand the concept of face, but we have decided that this value has prompted the following actions of our landlord.  
The Hubby taking down the fan blades.

On Thursday (two days after this previous post), our landlord came back with her mom and requested that we take the blades off our fans.  The neighbor called our landlord and told her that he can still hear the noise and believed that we were still using the fans (even though we weren't).  He requested that we have the blades removed rendering the fans ineffective.  Our landlord also informed us that she will replace our kong tiao (air conditioning unit) with a brand new one.  The Hubby and I didn't really think either of these actions were necessary, but in light of the recent rumors our landlord had no choice.  She had to save her reputation.  Thursday, our kong tiao was removed and this morning (Saturday) we had a new one installed.  After setting up the new kong tiao (which is totally awesome by the way), I thanked our landlord.  She responded, "Thank my mom."  Whoa!  Her mom bought our new kong tiao in an effort to help her daughter.  Wow.  How much was the new kong tiao?  About $700.  No cheap endeavor.

All that said, we are now waiting to see what happens next.  Do we get to put the blades back on our ceiling fans?  Will the new kong tiao appease the neighbors and help our landlord gain her reputation back?  I sure hope so.  She is absolutely the sweetest lady and I would hate to see her lose more face over this incident (especially since it is over something ridiculous).  

In other news, the coolest thunderstorm rolled through tonight lighting up the sky with bright flashes of lightening and loud thunder.  I wonder if our neighbor is hoping we lose power...

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Neighborly Relations

At the Seattle airport ready to check in!
This was going to be a post about our travel to Nanjing, the flight we missed in Beijing because we were delayed out of Seattle and how we finally made it to our apartment at 2:00am.  However, I have a much better tale to tell.  One of a mystery power outage and crazy neighbors who we always seem to live next to!

Right now, our landlord is in our apartment and has just called the police.  Why has she called the police?  Because our neighbors upstairs just now turned off the power to our apartment in protest.  This morning we also lost power around 6:00am.  We were both awake (I was trying to go back to sleep) and the power went off.  Two cold showers later and around 7:30 or 8:00 someone turned it back on (only after us calling our friend to call the landlord).  The hubby investigated the power outage and noticed it was only our apartment that didn’t have power.  After it came back on, we figured it all got worked out.  Apparently, it was our neighbor who turned it off this morning as well and no, nothing is resolved.

What I haven’t told you yet is that yesterday our upstairs neighbor came down while the landlord was here signing our lease to complain that the ceiling fan in the living room was creating too much noise and bothering her husband (who has cancer).  Follow that up with over an hour of the landlord, association president and neighbor going up and down the stairs, turning on ceiling fans, turning them off, etc. trying to figure out where the noise is coming from.  We thought the issue got resolved and it was not conclusive that the noise heard upstairs was coming from our apartment.  So far, everyone who heard the “noise” such as our landlord, the association president and others have said that it is a normal noise and couldn’t be caused by the fans in the living room or bedroom or the air conditioners.   Our friend, Angelina, who stayed in our apartment for a few weeks this summer said it doesn’t matter if we turn everything off, the neighbor will still say it is caused by us.   She even accused Angelina of lying, saying that Angelina would turn off the ceiling fan and air conditioner when she heard the neighbor at the door coming to complain of the noise. 

Our neighbor (left) standing guard as the association president (not seen) checks out the ceiling fan in the bedroom
Fast forward to the present, and now we have the police, our landlord and the neighbors arguing very loudly in the stairwell.   The police told our neighbor that he has no right to turn off our power for any reason.  The neighbor shot back that he would turn off the power every day until this issue is resolved.  Ai-ya!  Meanwhile, the hubby is loving every minute of this and is actually recording the argument from the landing. 

So, we traded one crazy neighbor for another.  In America, we had a trying relationship with our neighbor.  She was an elderly lady who lived alone and complained about us to the association a lot (we owned a condo and had a shared wall with her).  We had many arguments with her over her things in the yard, our dogs, noise and everything else in between.  It was a learning experience.  In fact, we are still dealing with her as now we have tenants in our condo and she has been pestering them as well.  As I’m typing this, the hubby just turned to me and said, “Maybe our situation with our neighbor in the states was really preparing us for this.”  A good perspective check for us.  How are we to love our neighbors in this situation when we can’t even speak the language?  We want to be good neighbors.  What does that look like in this situation? 

The police have now left and our landlord asked us to not use the ceiling fans for a week and see what happens.  Our first 36 hours in country and we have already had the police stop by!  And our neighbor lady just knocked on the door again saying she can still hear the noise.  I guess this drama is far from over.