Dave's Sketch Journal

Drawing is taking a line for a walk. - Paul Klee

Apartment hunting

apartment renting

Apartment hunting in China is similar to the United States. You look at 30 places or so and, when you finally locate the one you like, you pay money and move in.

Utilities are extra, just like the US. Water, gas, electricity, and the Internet all incur extra costs.

Of corse, there is the moving expense. You hire a small truck and six guys with BO to drag your stuff down six flights of stairs, drive across town, and then back up seven flights. You give them $60 for the day and you're done. It's easy.

apartment hunting
What is surprising is the condition of some of the rentals. Unlike rentals in the U.S. some apartments we looked at hadn't even been cleaned. Doors were falling off hinges. Kitchen counters sagged. Other places were full of furniture. One had a huge safe that took up precious floor space. It had to stay.

Oh, and there is another big difference. You have to pay one year's rent in advance. In fact, I heard of one couple that had to pay two years in advance. In China there are no bigger bills than 100 yuan. You need a dump truck to prepay a year of rent.

One place I liked had a great view from the 14th floor. Trouble was, it didn't have a stove nor any gas. I'd have to provide my own two burner stove and propane tank. Or just eat out every day.

apartment renting
You'd better be sure there is nothing wrong with the apartment before you pay, because after you pay you'll never see your landlord again. He has his money. Why should he stick around?

Do the sinks leak? Is there Internet? Do the showers drain properly? Is there sufficient water pressure? You'd better check first.

So here are a few pictures of some of the apartments our friends looked at. We tagged along just for fun.  What could hurt?

apartment hunting
The last picture is the final apartment they choose. It's new, clean, and has an Internet connection.  The toilets and sinks work.

It's huge. There are four bedrooms, two baths, a gigantic dance floor, ah, I mean, living room, and a new kitchen. All for the low, low price of $257 a month.

It's beautiful. There's a view. It's on the 7th floor. But there is no elevator.

Well you can't have everything.

You can't have everything. Where would you put it? - Stephen Wright

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Pedal Peril

it's a bad day
Last night I had to go to a friend's apartment. It's not in our subdivision. It's about 20 minutes by bicycle. It's been raining. Everything is wet. Things were not going well for me.

First off, I assumed that we'd be taking the bus. When I discovered that I could take the moped, it wouldn't start. So I ran up and grabbed the key to Ruth's borrowed bike. It has both a key and combination lock. But I forgot the combination to the lock by the time I got back down to the bike.

Beijing bicyble
Meanwhile we are losing time and it was getting dark. I have no light, no reflector, and no helmet. Have I lost my mind?

I finally unlocked both locks and threw them into the basket. The seat has been adjusted for Ruth so I couldn't extend my legs far enough to get any leverage. What's worse, the bike has only a single gear . . . gear 10.

Trying to get it going, I bear down on the pedals and get a little momentum. Then someone dashes in front of me and I quickly apply the breaks. They don't grab until the last minute. In fact, I thought that I didn't have any breaks at all as they complained loudly when I pressed them. They didn't want to stop.

getting through the crowds
There are wet socks on the grips and I pull them off as I ride out of the complex but then discover that they are there for a reason. The grips are sticky from being exposed to the sun. At the next light I pull the socks out of the basket and put them back on the grips. People stare at me. Susie asks if this is the way I dry my laundry.

We dash down the busy streets and thread through a fabric of cars. A big truck lumbers in front of us and blocks our vision. We dash around it and are then confronted with a mangle of taxis, mopeds, and bikes coming the opposite direction. The key here is to maintain forward momentum. Slow down if you must, but don't stop. I weave forward.

deep fried goodies
As we get closer to our destination the streets become tragic. The pot holes are not just uncomfortable to ride over, they are treacherous. Some manhole covers are not fully closed. Others were cracked and half missing. The sewers here are uncovered and drop off to my right just a foot away into a three foot pit. One road has a 20 foot mound of mud in the middle of it, as if a dump truck come by and lost its load. It has been raining so rivulets of mud stream from its base like octopus legs whose slimy appendages reach to grab my bald tires and pull me down.

When I finally catch up with Susie, she asks if I'm alright. I lie and out of breath say: "Sure I'm fine."

Yunnan China
"Is this the first time you are riding a bike in China?" This unnerved me. I had been discovered. My 52 year old body couldn't keep up with this 26 year old and it was showing. "Yes", I said "but it's good exercise for me." I didn't believe this and knew my place was on the moped. I cursed the fact that I couldn't get it started and had to take the bike.

We took another set of confusing turns and I followed her through a gate and down a dark lane. Occasionally I breathed in strong sewer odors but I couldn't determine where the smell was coming from. We biked the depth of the huge apartment complex and went around the back.

everything is manual
A brick path led to the front door. I followed it and just missed a chain draped across the entry, put there to discourage the mopeds from driving in, and ignorant bicyclists from successfully arriving. I could barely see the chain against the dark patterned brickwork but managed to slow enough to avoid it. As I cleared the chain and bore down on the pedals, I noticed a dark rod about a foot high also fixed across the pathway. Another barrier. Are they really trying to kill me? I stopped hard and stepped around it with the bike.

By the time I made it to the front door of the apartment my heart was loud, I was hot, I was breathing hard, and my legs were quivering.

Then I climbed six flights of stairs. There was no elevator.

Sometimes you're the windshield; sometimes you're the bug. - Mark Knopfler

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a bus ride

I see corrugated royal blue walls erected around construction zones that block my vision for miles. I feel pounding pile drivers as we pass large cranes. I hear machine gun jackhammers, grinding gears, rattling windows. The lurching bus finds all the road's potholes.

There are mounds of slag and dross that cover the walkways. They are globs of dried concrete that trip the pedestrians. I see a father carrying his small daughter on his back. His hands are clasped behind him and his fingers interlocked around her.

What time is it?
We are entangled in knotted traffic that resembles a bad macramé accident. A car in front of our bus makes a 3-point turn amid a gaggle of mopeds and ants of people.

Yunnan apartments
Shopkeepers, unfazed, squat in doorways reading Chinese magazines and newspapers.

A man on the bus dressed in blue socks, brown shoes, green pants, and a beige jacket exits carrying a purple shopping bag.

At many points along the road there are no crosswalks, no lights. Yet, people flood the four lane roads into small pockets of space, sucked into the void of passing busses, cars and mopeds. Like water running back into a scrape made in the mud, they overflow the streets until the next bus approaches and pushes them out of the way.

spiliage - milk carton down
Our bus lunges forward again in a grind of gears and a milk carton spills, creating white riverlets on the bus floor. They cascade down the exit stairs

The automated voice announces the next bus stop, but it's not comprehensible for the TV blasting commercials touting multivitamins that will make my body healthy.

But I think I'll just avoid what's making it weak. I'm getting off at the next stop.

I'm not a complete idiot, some parts are missing. - Bumper sticker

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Two's company; Three's a crowd

two's company, three's a crowd!

Okay, this is the last moped themed blog post . . . really! Well, until the next one anyway.

No, seriously, I've got so much to tell you: the bus ride to the foreign store for sushi fixings, the crazy ride we took in the rain, the mad owner of the restaurant that started yelling and punching a customer and then later cheated us out of $15! (That's a fortune by China standards. You know what I can buy with 100 yuan?!)

But, I digress. This is about the time we thought we'd imitate the Chinese moped riders. We wanted to see how many of us we could fit on one moped. You know, sort of like the 20 clowns in a VW. Wait a minute, forget that image.

Where was I? Oh, yeah, we've seen entire families on a single moped. Many times we've seen as many as four on the seat and a small child  standing on the floorboard.

So the three of us piled on Frank's moped. What is different about our little gang is that we represent three races! You'll never see THAT in China.

Check out the video.

We never really grow up; we only learn how to act in public.

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the trash truck

people on mopeds
You may remember seeing this trash truck in an earlier post. It was one of the pan shots of mopeds in China. It's the most unique thing I've seen built into a moped. (Or maybe it's a small motorcycle?)

trash truck
Anyway, it was interesting enough that one of my flickr contacts suggested it would be a great photo to sketch. My idea exactly, but this pushed me over the edge. (So if you're not into trash trucks, blame my flickr contact. It's not my fault I wont accept responsibility.)

Over the last couple of days I've been toying with this. Finally, today after finishing my studies, my flash cards of Chinese characters, and making breakfast, I finished it.

I did this with a waterproof 0.25 ink pen and Cotman Pocket Travel Watercolor set on a Moleskine Watercolor Notebook. I'd prefer to scan it on my scanner but don't have one here so had to take a quick photo with the iPhone. Best I could do for now.

It was a fun sketch to do.

I didn't say it was your fault, I said I was blaming you. - Anon

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"Bet you can't eat just one!"

After our Chinese lesson we went to the corner restaurant and ordered Huodun (whoh-done). The best way to describe it is to say that it's similar to fried wonton with a surprise inside.

We were introduced to this place two days ago when Frank complained that he hadn't had any breakfast. Frank ordered a basket of these and told me: "They are like potato chips, you can't eat just one." As he said this he filled a dish the size of a quarter with soy sauce, vinegar, and a half thimble of hot sauce.

teapot view
I was full from my breakfast of pancakes and eggs. When the basket of these crunchy wantons came I half-heartedly fetched one using an extra pair of chopsticks. The crunch was as an oily potato chip but with a prize inside of hot pork. My gastric juices increased as I swallowed my first huodun (whoh-done). I snatched another while Frank wasn't looking . . . and then another . . . and another. I dipped each into the sauce and let them melt on my tongue. The hot sauce hit the back of my throat and went up my nose. And then I ate another.

Frank looked at me suspiciously and called to the cook for another basket...and then another. Altogether we ate four baskets of these.

It was with this experience in mind that Ruth and I visited the same restaurant today. We ordered two baskets before we unzipped our coats. Ruth added fried jiaozi and rice to our meal.

I've got no time!
The husband is the cook and the wife takes our order. Her face is round and warm. She smiles often. Her husband came from the kitchen and bent slightly forward to listen to us order in Chinese. But both of them already knew what we wanted. Within minutes it was set in front of us.

The beeping trucks and passing traffic didn't mater anymore. We were in paradise.

Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity. - Voltaire

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China on moped

Mopeds are the vehicle of choice here. So in honor of their varied uses here's a short movie of just ten that sped by. (And one bicycle.)

You can even rent one with a driver. Ruth rode on the back of one yesterday to get to her destination quickly. It was just after a big rain so she thought she was safe. The woman was very careful. But on the way a car passed and sent a wave of putrid water cascading over them. The woman just laughed. Yeah, what can you do? (mei-ban-fa)

The driver got her to the agreed upon destination in time but alas, it was the wrong location. The street name Ruth gave her and the one she really wanted to get to sounded very close but the locations were not. She had to cancel her appointment.

You can see a larger view of the pan shots of ten different mopeds out on flickr.com. (Just click the link.)

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing. - Ben Franklin

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the foreigner's restaurant

Yeah, but could you remove your butt?
Today we checked out a foreign restaurant that serves great coffee. It's about a 30 minute bus ride from our place. It's also near a book shop that carries Chinese and English books. Its a hip place.

After lunch I sat finishing a beer while Ruth checked out the local shops.

This place is owned by a couple of American guys who created it primarily for foreigners. I usually don't like to go to these places because I'm embarrassed by the conduct of some of the crass people (i.e. Americans) who frequent these joints. They hook up their notebooks here like veins to an IV and download their web sites and tell each other how great they are. It makes me ill.

One guy bent over the table and stuck is butt in my face as he showed one of the other guys his most wonderful site. He claimed that he had correctly interpreted ancient Irish mythology. He was explaining how to download all his PDFs. When he left, one of the guys said to his buddy: "How arrogant can you get? He's an American who claims that only he correctly translated the ancient Irish myths? Are you kidding me?"

I'm hungry
I don't know. Who knows? Who cares? I just dislike the attitude of some of the folks that visit these places. It could be just as bad in Chinese restaurants, but I don't understand them.

Anyway, the reason why I go to these places once in a while is that I don't have to worry about the food or the water. There's a big write up in the font of the menu that explains how he filters all the water he uses for washing, cleaning, and drinking. I can actually eat raw vegetables without worry. And his coffee is phenomenal!

the foreigner's restaurant
Truth be told, we eat most all our meals at Chinese restaurants. We slurp noodles and crunch fresh vegetables. We wolf down dried pork on bone with mint leaves (ja-pie-gu). Then we wash it down with cold beers. One time while we were eating we also got our shoes shined for 2 yuan (30 cents). And another lady came over with a guitar who claimed to be able to sing. It was horrible. She strummed without changing the chord and talked through the song. My friend gave her $2 anyway. I wouldn't have given her a dime. That was false advertising.

The Chinese places are cheaper than the foreigner's restaurants and it's better for us. Actually we calculated that it is cheaper to eat out than it is to make the meals ourselves.

But I have to tell you that the word "restaurant" might conjer up the wrong image in your mind. These little places have no foyer, nor any entry counter. There is no "please wait to be seated" sign. It's simply a walkup. The whole front of the place is open to the street. That way you enjoy the full ambiance of the street scene a few steps away. A big metal roll down gate closes the place after hours. So there really is no door nor any windows. Since smoking is allowed in these restaurants, the open wall to the street is an asset not a liability.

watermelon for sale
Yet, the folks are the kindest and the most easy going you'll ever meet. They are fun to chat with and are happy that you are there. It's a wonderful experience.

Back at home we saw a sliver $100,000 dollar 2010 Porsche PanameraS pull out of our street. We crossed behind it and saw a vendor selling watermelons out of his horse drawn wagon.

China is a place of extremes.

I didn't get to ride in the Porsche but I did look over the vendor's watermelons.

Even if you have a lots of horses under your hood, you can't go any faster than the horse in front of you. - Dave Terry

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woolen slippers

China yarn
The custom of removing your shoes when you enter a home was not hard for us to get used to. It's the same custom in Hawaii where we lived for 15 years. The difference here is that the host always provides warm slippers for their guests in the winder. So in our entryway we have a stack of multi-colored plastic and cotton slippers. In Hawaii we just go barefoot in the homes. The floors are usually wood or tile and this cools the body in the hot climate.

But earlier this week in Yunnan it dropped to 55 degrees. The floors are concrete (there is no carpet) and there are no portable heaters in the apartment. In fact, the building has no forced air heat. It's never provided in China. Most Chinese feel that an environment that is too warm is bad for the body. And yet, you can't get ice anywhere in China. They say that cold ice will ruin your stomach. Go figure. There is no altering their view on this. Trust me.

wool slippers
Anyway a friend crocheted some woolen slippers for me. I can wear them around the apartment and bring them with me when I visit friends.

We do have a heating blanket we found in the closet. We put that on the bed. So I'm here typing into this blog while propped against pillows, with socks, slippers and the heating blanket set to five.  I also drink lots of coffee and tea.

Trouble is, I have another month or so to go!

I hope the sun comes out soon.

Hospitality means making your guests feel at home, even when you wish they were.

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the duke of hazard

China transport
Just four weeks ago I was in my cozy Atlanta apartment. Now I'm driving this scooter down a narrow lane in the middle of China. I'm desperately steering the bike while filming with my left hand. I look back at the people behind me and scan the driveways in front of me.

What has caused me to tempt disaster? It's all for the photo. What else?

I've uploaded a couple of videos to give you a feel for the drive. Remember that this is NOT a typical ride. These were shot while the streets were virtually empty. No humans were harmed in the filming. No one was run over by me. I was not crushed by the large truck that suddenly cut across my lane.

No, I filmed this in relative calm because I wanted to live long enough to upload it to the blog. Nor did I take this when it was raining. That adds another exciting element to the mix. That's because the front brake only grabs the front tire. If I panic, which I hate to admit I often do, my front tire slides along the pavement and the back of the scooter slides around to my right in a jack-knife fashion.

Don't ask me how I know this.

I always take life with a grain of salt, plus a slice of lemon, and a shot of tequila. - Anon

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folks with pets

I never imagined that there would be so many pets in China. I don't know why. I guess I hadn't seen many on past trips in the tourist sections. Now that I'm living here, it's a different ball game.

Besides seeing dogs as pets, I've seen guinea pigs, rabbits, fish, chipmunks, squirrels, and even monkeys. I've only seen stray cats, none as pets yet. In fact, I heard one out in the courtyard this morning, moaning in the rain.

One of our friends here owns a miniature shar pei. She's cute and smart, if a bit excitable. Maya lives on the sixth floor of an apartment complex with her owners. She uses paper out on the balcony as her potty area. I gotta admit, she is adorable.

park walk
My first reaction to visiting anyone with a pet, especially a dog, is one of apprehension. That's because often the pets are simply uncontrollable. They jump all over me. Lick my hands and pants. Wet on the floor. I step it it. They climb all over me when I sit down. They leave hair on my black pants.

Usually, when it's time to go, I smell just like the dog.

Yet when I'm a guest in their home, I try not to be overly concerned. I mean, after all, if I smell like their dog maybe they'll like me and reward me with a biscuit.

It's easier to put on slippers than to carpet the whole world. - Al Franken

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a walk in the park

park walk
Strolling through the park is a national pastime. We found a park nearby (they are usually not very far from any major city) and chatted some with people we met.

We found this precocious five year old who called me grandpa. Her mother and sister told her to call me uncle but she insisted. Later we passed them again in the park and we heard her mother tell her to apologize to me but before they could get closer I said in Chinese to the little girl: "Grandpa?! My goodness I can't believe you." and smiled.

They all laughed and giggled.

I wear my cowboy hat when I go out to the park and it usually gets smiles and nods. It's a great chance to start conversations. However, one time I was surprised at one man's response. He looked at me strangely, scanned me up and down and shook his head. Maybe he's never seen a genuine Atlanta Cowboy. Who can say?

park walk
Later I went to a store and had another strange experience. I was waiting in line when a guy in a suit came up and wedged himself in front of me. But I got the upper hand. I put my vegetables down on the counter in front of his. Then I eased in front of him. He glared at me. I was getting a bit hot and felt steam coming from my ears. I didn't have the language skills to tell him that there was a queue and that if he was having difficulty finding the end of it, I'd be happy to show him the way. (I was bigger than he was.) When the woman in front of me left, he reached around from behind me and put his vegetables on the scale.

An older couple was watching all of this. When he finally left in a haughty gait they offered me their place in another line. They were all smiles and very apologetic. I was most likely challenging some new mega-millionaire (thus the suit and white shirt) who was not going to wait for anyone. Not even a foreigner. In most places I have to insist that the local folks go ahead of me. They are usually most gracious.

dave & ruth
There is a very nice restaurant that caters to Westerners we go to often. We can get fresh bread there and spices. They have an incredible menu and free WIFI for our computers. So after one shopping day we headed over there for lunch with a newly married Korean couple.

Ruth has been doing the bus thing all by herself. She's learning the schedules and reading the characters.

Me? I just stay at home and blog. It's a thankless job but someone has to do it.

Without geography, you're nowhere. ~Author Unknown

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shopping and well, shopping

washing vegetables
Let's see...what have we been up to? Well, we are shopping often. We just can't avoid it if we want fresh produce. This is about every other day.

After that, we need to wash them. We use a special detergent to do this. 

Naxi scarf
 The potatoes are right out of the ground. I have mud in the sink after the wash. All of this takes a bit longer then just coming home from Costco and tossing the stuff in the fridge.

Traveling expands horizons.

For example, who says that a toilet paper roll has to have a hollow center? Why can't it be solid? You'd get more paper for the money.
silver bracelets
Maybe you assume that the center needs to be hollow so that it can hang on a dispenser in the wall. Is that really required? Where is that written? Who says it can't sit on a shelf near the toilet? And further, who says there needs to be perforations between the squares? Why can't you just tear off whatever you need in any place on the roll? That's the way it is here. Maybe this is just TMI (Too Much Information) for you? Sorry but this is the hazard of reading travel blogs.

After shopping we had lunch and walked by an Art Wall. For some reason the wall was embedded with pottery, some whole, some just shards. Odd and strange but it was worth a picture. (Might work well as a desktop wallpaper too!)

Naxi woman in Lijiangart wall
I've also posted a few pics of the stuff Ruth bought in Lijiang yesterday. Silver bracelets, a Naxi (pronounced: Na-she) woven wallet and scarf. All of these items are hand crafted on the spot. She also bought a journal of paper made in the old town. Wonderful colors.

Remember, even when something is 50% off, it's still 50% on. - Eric Terry

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