Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Oddities, Patience, and random observations

Today's Alarming Statistic (as reported in The Beijing News):

The percentage of Beijingers the municipal government aims to have regularly brushing their teeth within 10 years.

I truly believe that there is not a measuring cup or measuring spoon in all of China. But I'm positive that the ones I used in Seattle were manufactured here! They must just cook from feel. Maybe I'll get some insight when I take my cooking class:


I may have to return to IKEA today although I swore I was done with that place. We need a rug for our apartment and unless we want an "oriental" one I think it is the best option. If so, I can get free coffee because I am now the official holder of an IKEA Family card! And I may get lucky enough to hear a different Abba song in Chinese!

I bought some shoe racks at a shop I walked to (about 25 minutes away) and since they were fairly light I decided to walk back home. The only concern I had was the awkwardness of carrying 4 of them, not the weight.

Well, here is where there is an advantage to living in a city where people walk/ride bikes. The sales girl tied them all together with strong tape and even fashioned a "handle" out of tape. Made it a piece of cake to carry the two bundles. She didn't blink an eye or make it seem like I was being a pain. I didn't even tell her I was walking in fact; she just did this without a word. I continue to be impressed by how accommodating people are in Beijing.

Another example was when I went to the appliance store (like Best Buy but Chinese). I bought the water cooler base, vacuum cleaner, some flash drives, and a power strip there.

When you buy things here you select them, then someone spends about 10 minutes filling out some paperwork and they walk you over to a distant place in the store where you pay. Well they probably wouldn't need to walk a Chinese person, but... Then you pay which takes about 10 more minutes while they fill out forms in triplicate and make you sign each one. They staple various things together, hand you your copy, and then you wonder what's next. About 5 minutes later someone appears with what you bought and you can leave. There is a lot of dead time for me in there where I am wondering if the process is working!

At the appliance store once I had my stuff I asked for a taxi (chuzu qiche) and the store guy ran out to the street about 60 yards away and flagged one for me. He rode in the taxi back to the store and got out so I could get in. I showed the driver my address in Chinese (this was before I had my helpful recording on my phone) and he refused to take me. The store guy stayed with me the whole time and then together we walked the 60 yards to the street to try again. 2nd time was a charm. The guy said ok. You truly feel at the mercy of the taxi drivers here. I believe it is illegal, or at least considered bad business, for taxis to refuse you in big cities in the USA. Here that is obviously not the case.

I'm telling you it can reduce me to tears more easily than anything else to be far away from the apartment and believe I might not get home. We have learned to open the door and pile in before showing the address. It makes it that much harder for them to say no (or actually wave their arms at us with an angry face).

The guards in my building are soooo nice though. It makes me feel like a fancy lady. They will run across the lobby to open the doors for me each time - first the inner lobby door then the one that opens to the outside. I am not used to this and certainly always try to beat them to the door to open it myself but I think they consider this as a big part of their job and I wouldn't want to deny them the pleasure!

Because we don't have our printer yet, (it is coming in the air shipment which will arrive after October 9th due to the big National Day Holiday eight days long), I have many times asked one of the guards to come up to my apartment to look at my computer screen and write down the address in Chinese of where I need to go for the taxi driver. They bring little baggies with elastic around them like shower caps and always put them over their shoes before they enter. Totally unnecessary of course, and I try to tell them so, but they insist. I think the guards go above and beyond their call of duty.

It is a little freaky though that they all carry radio walkie talkies and are in constant communication with one another. I sometimes think I must be on video in my elevator area on the 8th floor because they are usually ready for me whenever I come out on the first floor. I imagine them saying "The American lady and her daughters have left the apartment... they are approaching the west entrance..." I'm sure that's not the case (I hope!)

Let's talk about electrical conservation for a moment.

Inside our apartment, the bathroom lights are on motion sensors. Whenever you get close to the doorway the light comes on. That's fine unless it is the middle of the night. The big downside happens if you stand in one position too long while brushing your teeth or applying your make-up. Then the lights go off and you have to wave your arms around to get them back on again. I find this very annoying. There is a small light inside the shower and above the tub that stays on, but you have to remember to turn it on because it's a separate switch. Then you take your shower and it is pitch black in the rest of the bathroom. When you open the shower door, however, the lights come on again. Usually the motion of drying off keeps the lights on until you are done.

Most escalators operate by motion sensors too. As you approach them they start. At first I would get so angry that all the escalators seemed to be broken and I'd steel myself for a long climb only to be pleasantly surprised that they would start when I needed them.

They just don't waste electricity here.

Yesterday I spent 20 minutes at a little store around the corner trying to buy paper towels. I use them a lot for cooking - drying off chicken, prawns, spreading oil on my pan, etc. I know I bought some somewhere - maybe Jenny Lou's which stocks lots of American / European products - but I'm running dangerously low. I drew a picture of a roll of paper towels, including the perforations, and pantomimed tearing some off and wiping the counter. They tried to sell me a handi-wipe type cloth, and multiple other cloths but I kept saying "no". Finally they indicated I should wait. Apparently one guy had left the store in search of what they thought I needed without my noticing. This store is about 4 yards wide and 20 yards deep so I'm not sure how that happened. Anyway I didn't want to be rude since they were trying so hard, but it was nearly time for Greta to be home from school. I waited and waited and finally pointed to my wrist to ask the time. The cash register said 15:45pm (everything operates on military time here). I was getting antsy and just about to leave when the guy came back with two items made of plastic. They were cylindrical - about 6 inches in diameter and 4 inches high decorated with cartoony images of puppies on the sides. One yellow and one purple. They each had a removable top with air vents in them. Hmmmm. I almost felt like I had to buy them because they had gone to all that trouble, but I said no thank you, nicely, and ran home. Now I take pictures of what I need... observe - all the basics necessary for life!

Also yesterday, I needed to mail my first letter since arriving in China. This lead me to remembering when we lived in London in 1988-90 and again in 1998-2001. Both times the post office was a real destination for me. I had to almost immediately locate one and learn all about stamps and international rates and scales, etc.

The advent of the internet has really changed that! I can pay all my bills over the internet and communicate with everyone either in e-mail or with my MagicJack phone thing-y.

Anyway, I had to mail a tax payment and it had to be postmarked by September 15th. Hopefully the IRS will accept a postmark from China... So I hopped on my bike and hunted for a China Post. There is a big building that says China Post on my left as I walk to the subway, so I thought I'd try there. I biked in and out of 6 tower block areas before I found the one that housed the China Post. Then I parked my bike and in the process of locking it up, knocked down 2 other bikes. Sweating and embarrassed, I struggled to pick them up while my bike was falling on top of me (my kickstand is useless). The entrance to the post office was only 3 steps away so I walked in and it was literally just a cubicle with a lady sitting inside. I handed her my envelope and said USA and she said "liu kuai" and I figured that's just under a dollar and sounded about right. The simplest things can become what you are going to accomplish in a day.

A few days later:
I took a few days off ... Eric just left for a week in London, so now we're on our own again. It's not really a big deal since he works all day during the week anyway, and long hours because he's always having conference calls in Seattle and London, etc. so he has to be at the office at weird hours to accommodate the time differences. If he was gone on the weekends it would be a bummer, but he'll be home Friday afternoon!

Our first visitor, our nephew Drew is coming on Saturday!!!!!!! We are all excited but Greta and Ivy are bouncing off the walls. He has been on a "world tour" after graduating from Western. Can't wait to feed him some chicken feet and duck blood soup.

Almost every day I walk to the market along this canal:

It ranges from 5 inches of water to bone dry. As you can see it has quite a lot of something growing in it. There are usually some people peering down into the murky stuff with nets in hand. I feel too conspicuous to photograph them, but I have stood nearby trying to discern what they are catching. So far I have no idea, but I hope I'm not buying it at the market! I also see this a lot:

These are obviously drying in the sun, but it is not obvious to me what they are. A close up:

They look like sea shells, but I see nothing like that in the water. Maybe it's pasta? But I haven't seen this in the market. It's a mystery, but this blue sheet has been along the canal for weeks.

The other day there was a big event here at MOMA. They had this fancy chair setup and here's how it looked at dusk and then at night.

From what we understand,
it was an investor event. Not sure if they invested in this development or if they were totally separate and just rented the venue. They had beautiful music and dancing and a very enthusiastic violin duet. It was all very elegant. We watched from our window.

This weekend we bicycled to the Lama Temple which is less than 2 miles away. It's our new favorite thing to ride around on the bikes and although

Beijing is pretty flat it's still a challenge with a 90 lb. kid on the back! Greta is a great helper though, warning me whenever cars, carts, donkeys, or other traffic is coming. This is a diagram of the layout of the Lama Temple (Yonghegong). It covers a vast area and is chock full of Buddhas and their alters. The temple was built in the late 1600's and originally home to court eunuchs, but later was home to a prince related to the emperor at that time (Qing Dynasty). 30 years later it was turned over to the Tibetan monks and it is the only working Buddhist monestary in China now.
The photo on the right shows the entryway into just the first of many courtyards housing temple after temple. At the entrance to each one is a metal fire pit into which practicing Buddhists place armloads full of incense. The air was thick with the scent throughout.

There were actually a lot Do you know these people?
of practicing Buddhists there on this day.

The final temple houses an enormous Buddha - said to be the largest one carved from a single piece of sandalwood. It is three stories high and 9 meters wide at the base. No pictures were allowed inside any of the temples, but I took a few through the windows.

This is a Buddhist prayer wheel.

And here are Greta and Ivy ringing the bell!

It seems a little is lost in translation sometimes. Check out the informational plaques on the Drum Tower in Chinese compared to the English...

All the more incentive to learn this language!

Pomegranate tree in Lama Temple grounds...

Well, that's all for now. Hope you are all doing well. Missing you!

1 comment:

  1. Are you implying with that photo that you still don't know the chinese word for beer? Srsly? I'd have learned that right after I memorized how to say "where is the toilet?"!

    Okay, I lied, I might have learned how to say gimme a beer in chinese before I bothered with toilets at all.