Monday, September 7, 2009

Can't believe it's only been 21 Days!

Wow. I've joined the current century. The hardest thing so far about making a blog is choosing which font to use. I think Arial for now.

No, actually the hardest thing is getting on from China. Let me tell you it is not easy to drill through the iron wall that is Chinese government internet censorship, but with the help of my new Chinese technical buddy "Jason" we DID IT! I can now access this blog, Facebook, YouTube, and even Netflix to watch instant movies online. With the internet and my cell phone and my MagicJack I feel super connected with you all.

Where to begin?

We have been in Beijing for 21 days today but it feels like longer. Eric had to be back in Seattle for a week almost immediately after our arrival so the girls and I were on our own to discover how the most basic of things work here. No one can drink the tap water so we had two choices:

1. Pay 20 times as much and drink filtered water from a special source within our apartment building which comes out of a special tap that looks like an insta-hot tap back home.
2. Buy a water cooler like in an office building and purchase huge bottles and have them delivered.

Guess which one we chose?

Given that I didn't even know the name for water (yinyong shui) I had to ask for lots of help from some of the many building guards and worker ladies. There are at least six people assigned per tower who are onsite 24 X 7 to open the doors for you when you come home and help carry heavy items all the way to your apartment. I have a card to scan in front of the front door but so far I have never even had to pull it out. Unfortunately I speak no Chinese and the workers speak no English. Pantomime and quickly scanning my little pocket dictionary have become my best new skills! Even if I learn that yinyong shui means water the pronunciation could be any which way so they continuously look at me like I have a horn growing out of my forehead.

Luckily, I have had wonderful help from the Chinese people all around the city and most of them are not quick to give up on me. If worse comes to worse and I am truly desperate I call "Sarah" or "Jessica" from the HAYA office (the company Eric's company is partnering with here) and ask them to speak to whomever and make my needs known. I'm proud to say that 90% of the time I have done it on my own! I even got the girls and me cell phones and a calling plan on my own. And I am not kidding when I tell you there was not a single soul at that China Mobile office who spoke a word of English. Yes, it took two hours to order the service (get a sim card) and another 1.5 hours at the Suning store (like Best Buy) to purchase the phones, but hey, what else did we have to do while the girls were in quarantine and unable to start school?

Oh yes, we had to monitor Greta and Ivy's temperature and record it on a special form for the government for seven days once we landed in China before they were allowed to start school. I wish I had one of the cool temperature-taking guns that they use on the school bus and at school and at the airport to instantly zap the temperature, but I have only my digital thermometer which only tells me Fahrenheit which I then use the internet to convert to Celsius.

The girls are attending Beijing City International School and loving it. There are people from everywhere you can imagine in both of their grades. Ivy's best friend is Gracie Huntsman, adopted Chinese daughter of the US Ambassador to China! She just started a week after Ivy did.

Greta is swimming on the school swim team and they have a meet this year in Vietnam! (Reminiscent of the good old gymnastics days of travel...) Ivy is playing soccer on an <12>

Homework is a bit more intense than they have had previously, but they are excited about the work and both have a good work ethic so it is okay. On Mondays and Fridays Greta gets home at around 5:30 and Ivy at 4:15. On Tuesdays and Thursdays Ivy gets home about 6:30 and Greta at 4:15. Wednesdays they both get home about 3:15 since school lets out an hour early on Wednesdays. It's pretty luxurious sending them off on the school bus and not having to drive them!

So there is some routine established.
After the girls head off to school at 7:15am, I usually use my MagicJack (special thanks to my friend Ken for telling me about this awesome device) to call my mom or other friends from home. Then I head off to explore. I've been walking maybe 4-5 miles a day at least. My pants are getting looser! I get lost daily but I just wander until I see something I semi-recognize or I hail a taxi for home.

Taxis are super cheap here. A drive similar to one from downtown Seattle to SeaTac would cost something like $10 maximum. The big trick is that our building is so new most of the taxis don't know it.

Therefore, on Ivy's recommendation, I asked a Chinese building guy to record into my cell phone the name of this area before it was re-developed. Most of the taxis know that name and if I can get them to sit still while I push my phone against their ear they eventually nod their head and off we go!

Our apartment looks out on one side over the airport express. For anyone familiar with Beijing, we are on the 2nd Ring Road which is pretty close in. I'd guess maximum 4 miles to the Forbidden City. The building was designed by Steven Holl - a famous NYC architect. It is a gorgeous building and the apartments are really different than most Beijing buildings which are gigantic blocks. We are lucky to live here. We have big windows all around (funny how we always seem to gravitate toward that) so it feels a bit like you are in a fishbowl, especially at night when the lights are on inside. There are 8 22 story towers connected together at the 20th floor. There is, so far a laundry and a little store and a fancy shmancy furniture store called B&B Italia where everything costs a fortune. All our furniture is from IKEA, so we can't add some random lamp that costs a billion dollars or it just wouldn't fit in.

The girls are sharing a room for the first time since they were 6 and 4. It's fun to be in bunk beds again, but Ivy was desperate for the top and now she gets no "snuggle" time because I don't want to climb up there! Eric will occasionally, so she'll survive. We are just finishing The Hound of the Baskervilles - can't wait to find out whodunnit!

Well this has taken me bits and pieces of all day and I really haven't told you anything. I'll try to do some updating as often as I can. I'm off to Shanghai on Thursday and Friday so won't be writing then, but I can compare Beijing and Shanghai a bit afterward maybe.

This is our adopted cat, "Kitty Kitty". He lives in our apartment complex and the girls love him.

Miss you all and wish you the best.


  1. Hi Park! Thanks for the update...I think you are amazing! I know I could never do all of that! Looking forward to reading your blog on a regular basis...We got Andy off to UPS in Tacoma...He loves it there...Came home with a carload of kids yesterday for Bumbershoot...Anna starts school tomorrow (fourth grade)...Hoping it all goes well...Talk soon, Katie

  2. Hey Park!! Your adventure to China sounds amazing and really exciting. I wish I could be there and someday I would really like to visit China. Let Greta and Ivy know that I miss them a lot. I really enjoy reading your blog whenever you update it and there's something new to read about. Everything seems great including the school that Greta and Ivy are staying at and its so exciting you get to travel to Vietnam for the swim meet. Good luck with the rest of your fabulous life in china for the next few years, I hope everything works out and it's a blast!!

    I miss you all! Love, Tess!!

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  4. Hey! You guys are the luckiest family ever! I hope you guys are having fun in China cuz it's boring old Seattle here! Kitty Kitty is SO adorable. I hope you guys have been transitioning well. And I also hope Greta and Ivy are having a great time at school! Greta and Ivy's school buses are huge compared to ours! Tell Greta and Ivy I say HI and I hope there having a good time! I hope we'll see you guys if you ever visit (or we visit you). I miss you guys a whole lot! I hope everything works out great!
    Love, Lily!

  5. Hey park and family!
    China sounds so amazing. Hope that we can visit soon and join you in your adventure........ But anyways, speaking of traveling, I'm going to Costa Rica. Of course its not as cool as China, but still I'm excited. Then, we maybe will visit you....... :)Tell everyone I say HI and tell Greta we should chat on g mail :D

    Well toodeloo for now!~ Tess