Dave's Travel Journal

A vacation is what you take when you can't take what you've been taking. - Earl Wilson


A Room With a View

I thought I'd give you an idea of what the view from our apartment is like. Out front it's wonderful to look down at the garden below. Often there is a breeze. Today the weather was overcast and that actually enhanced the colors a bit.

Front View


No mopeds are allowed in the courtyard (they park in the parking garage below the buildings) so that means that no alarms go off during the day or night. It's just as peaceful in the day as in the evening.

We see the same view from the living room balcony too. It's truly a place of rest for us. I think it's important to have a room with a view, if only of just another building across the way.

The back view is not so great. On the positive side it provides lots of light and a cross breeze. Both are important considerations when shopping for an apartment, wherever it might be.

Back View


(Oh, and if you roll your mouse over the picture you'll get an enhanced, posterized view. All pictures were created as HDRs with Potomatix Pro. You can see other examples of HDRs (high dynamic range) out at my flickr site.)

...dave
The only thing worse than losing your eye sight is losing your vision. - Anon

Movin' In

It's been a busy five days since the last post.  We've moved into our new apartment.  It's not just new to us but in fact it's never been lived in.

The landlord bought it for the purpose of moving into it themselves so it's well designed.  Their plans changed and so had to rent it out.  They want us to live here for the next six years if possible.

Since they planned to live here themselves, it's plush by Chinese standards.  It's not a typical rental.

But in order to outfit it for living we've had to purchase:
  • two couches
  • coffee table
  • queen bed
  • wardrobe closet (no China apartment rooms have closets)
  • patio chairs and table
  • fridge
  • water cooler
  • clothes washer
  • laser printer
  • Internet connection, hub and router
  • other household items

The Chinese 100 bills is oil slipping through our fingers. Will it ever end?

We still have no dining table or chairs and our second bathroom and two bedrooms are completely empty. Whoever visits us will have to bring their own towel and sleeping bag. Sorry, but that's just the way it is.

The good news is that, with the exchange rate, all this stuff came to about $1500 U.S. dollars . . . and that includes delivery. In the States you might pay that much for a fridge. (Well, you might pay that much but I never will!)

The new place is very comfortable. We are very happy here. It's really quiet too since we are far enough from the main road that we don't hear a lot of traffic noise.

 There is a beautiful courtyard below. Since we have not yet purchased a dining room table we eat on our patio furniture on the covered lanai.

The apartment spans the entire building so we have windows on both sides. Openings on each side gives us a cross breeze and lots of light. We love light.

Today it is a pleasant 27 degrees Celsius (81 degrees Fahrenheit) with a gentle breeze. It's very dry so it doesn't seem to be that hot.

At 8:30 a.m. I left for a day out on the town. After a harrowing 30 minute ride on the moped through gobs of people, busses, taxis, bicycles, and vendors we arrived at the bus terminal. From there we traveled another hour to see a friend.

The return trip was the same except we stopped at a local restaurant for a bite. It was unusual in that you pick out whatever vegetables you want and they lightly boil them and serve them to you along with a hot dip. We also ordered seasoned meat on a stick and washed it down with beers. Then we jumped on the moped for the 30 minute ride back home.

I realize that I can't plan too much in a day. In the States we might shop in several stores, visit a friend, and then go out to an evening meal. Here everything takes longer. For one thing, you need to use either the bus, moped or taxi to get around. And for another thing, you have to carry whatever you buy or need for the day on your back.

The streets are always under construction so the trip on a moped is not just dicey but often torturous. Cars from the narrow side streets dump into the main avenues, sounding their arrival with a piercing horn blow. They rarely look. Slow moving old men on three wheel bicycles, heaped with cardboard, block the only path through. I slow, then stop, then go, then zip around him, just missing a piece of metal sticking out from the construction site. It nips my shoe.

Horns, dust, and stench assault my ears, eyes, and nose. My senses are overloaded. I'm exhausted, yet I've only made it through half the day.

I'm glad to be home.

...dave
If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around, do the other trees make fun? - Anonymous

First week in China

Just wanted to bring you up to date on a few events. I guess this has become sort of like our online diary. What a drag, but there it is.

Ruth bought an old used beater bike, with a basket. She uses it for her local grocery shopping jaunts. But other than the bike, we had no wheels. Two of us can't ride the bike nor go very far on it. We can use public transportation but it's slow. For example, to get to one of our favorite shopping places, a bus ride is 40 minutes. On a moped it's 15. Often our destination is not near a bus stop so that would mean another 15 minutes of walking after taking the bus. Mopeds are king.

So this past week I bought a used "electric bike," two helmets, a heavy duty lock, and a small trunk for the back.

Now we fit right in here. That is, except for the helmets, few Chinese use them. But they do come in handy. The other day a guy on a speeding moped ran into me. He and his bike fell over and his eight boxes tumbled after him. So I wear the helmet not because I'm a bad driver but because the other people are.

We also found a great apartment. For less than what we were paying in the states we found a place three times larger and overlooking a garden. The place is so big we can fit a sectional couch, a ping pong table, a pool table, and still have room for a car. I kid you not. It's huge. It is 1,431 square feet of space. That's about the size of our old house on Castle Lane. Yikes!

Actually the place was very expensive at first. We really didn't want to look at it because it was beyond of our price range. But after meeting the landlord, they discounted the apartment by 20%. They really like Americans. Both the husband and wife have been to America and know that we keep our places neat and clean. Also, we don't cook with a wok. It's rare to find a Chinese landlord that has been to America. Most feel we are loaded and can afford apartments at any price. One landlord was asking $581/mo for an 860 square foot apartment. That's insanity.  Most go for $300/mo.

But our apartment is brand new, has three bedrooms, two baths, and two balconies. It faces south so in the winter it will get plenty of sun. No China apartment buildings here are heated. They can actually be colder inside than the outside temperature. So a south facing apartment is important.

Perhaps we'll be able to move in this week.

The next step is to buy the stuff we need to furnish it: bed, desk, fridge, nuker (microwave), etc. I guess we'll have to do some shopping. It's really crazy though. After selling all our stuff in the states we don't want to buy anything. So besides the necessities, the place might look like a parking garage, sans the cars.

Of course, negotiating all of this would not be possible within a week if it were not for our helpful friends. They have been awesome.

So other than the new bicycle, electric bike, apartment and a moped crash, nothing much has really happened this week.

...dave
I've kept a diary since birth. The first entry says: "Still tired after the move." - Stephen Wright

apartment hunting

The first day after our arrival we went apartment hunting. The exchange rate has changed so prices are higher now. We did find a few that were acceptable. Most were not.

There are so many things to consider when determining where you'll settle down in China.

Some considerations are obvious like: Is it close to the school? Is there public transportation nearby? Does it have a western toilet? What is the view out the main window?

And some are not so obvious such as: Can the fridge fit in the kitchen? Does the shower water flow toward the drain? Which way does the sun enter the apartment in the winter?

The last consideration is important as there is no heat in any of the apartments in China. You have to provide your own heating units.

I know you think I'm exaggerating here, and I wish I were.

For example, always there is the issue of the incorrect sloping bathroom floor. Since there is no shower stall this is an important consideration. For some reason most of the floors incline toward the toilet even though there is a drain right under the shower head.

I believe this is because most China apartments are designed for, well, Asians. They use the squat toilet as the single drain for the bathroom floor. Now though, more western toilets are installed in the apartments. But no one has discovered that it is now necessary to slope the floors away from them. Most of our friends have to install a channel or rail to keep the water in the shower area. Then, after each shower, they use a squeegee to pull all the water toward the drain under the shower head.

I think the most ridiculous configuration we saw was in one apartment's kitchen. It was perfect in every way except . . . the washing machine would have to be placed in the kitchen, next to the counter, where the only water hookup was. The tiny floor space would not then allow a fridge. So the fridge would have to be placed in the living room. But then again, that's not so bad. At least the beer would be closer to the couch.

We did find an apartment that was great. It faced a courtyard of trees, flowers, and fountains. It was very big. It had a beautiful private courtyard in which we could set up plants and a little vegetable garden. Even the bathroom had perfectly correct sloping floors. And the kitchen could contain a big refrigerator and even a washing machine. (I know, a washing machine in the kitchen is not my idea of perfect, but there it is.) However, the big drawback was that it would cost a fortune to heat during the winter months. It had high ceilings and a non-thermal glass wall in the kitchen.

Rats, and we were so close.

...dave
Why are they called apartments, when they're all stuck together? - Anonymous

Family Reunion

Terry family reunions always mean slide shows.

We don't sit around and talk. We sit around and view.

Most folks bring food to reunions but not us, we bring pictures Always there are pictures.

In the old days when there were slide projectors, my dad, aunt and uncle would bring carousels and carousels of images. After dinner (really the best time for kids to play) we were all expected to sit and watch what seemed to be endless slides and listen to someone drone on about their vacation.

Images flashed before us hypnotically on the wall. And there we'd sit, lined up along the couch, like birds on a wire enduring the winter, and pinch ourselves to stay awake while my uncle droned on about a recent foreign trip.

Just about the time we'd nod off he'd say:

"Oh, and here's the best part, pay attention here...." and then tell us the number of gallons a camel drinks.

And you could never tell when the show would end because he'd hide the stacks of carousels under the table. You only thought there were 80 slides. But as soon as the last one went black he'd pull another carousel out and slap it on the projector before you had a chance to go to the bathroom.

Since the clan has grown and slideshows have gone digital the Reunion Slideshows we must endure has mushroomed. Last night we watched five slideshows! And they were NOT short. Yeah, it's easy to show pics now. Dump the digitals into the slideshow program and generate a DVD. But like Goldblum said in Jurassic Park: "Just because you can do it, doesn't mean you should."

After what seemed like 400 pictures from one of the shows, someone said to my uncle:

"Hey, uncle Rich, slideshows are supposed to have a beginning AND an end."

He started to laugh hysterically.

Someone else said: "My watch has stopped."

And then another said: "Forget the watch, check the calendar!"

He put his hand up to stop the ribbing. His gut was splitting.

And so all 25 of us sat, watching our lives flash before our eyes.

It was death by slideshow.

...dave
"Here we are watching a slideshow AGAIN." - dave terry (corrupted line from Jurassic Park)

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unpacking the van

Well, we finally got around to removing the boxes from the van. There were a total of 20 boxes, plus other packages, loose items, and other stuff.

 Wow! How did it all fit?

It reminds me of the cross country 1972 trip our family took. It's unbelievable just how big cars were back then. I think mom has a picture of all the stuff that fit in the huge Buick trunk. I'll see if I can dig it out.

Now comes the hard part. What do we actually bring with us to China? Here's our thinking:

What we don't need to bring:

1) Books - We sold our books and bought two Kindles and loaded them up with some classics for free. We cut-n-pasted other books/references into MS Word documents. Then we email them to our Kindles for free. Amazon converts the documents to the Kindle automatically. We don't really even need to bring blank writing notebooks. In China, notebooks are everywhere and they are very cheap, often just a few dollars U.S. There are a lot of students in China. Study is encouraged. Blank writing notebooks are needed.

2) Clothes - We need very few clothes. We can buy whatever else we need later.

3) CDs - I've uploaded many of my CDs into Amazon's  Cloud Drive. This is a new offering that allows you to upload and play your CDs on any device at any time.  (Oh, and if you buy an album by December 31st, you'll get another 20 gigs free!)

4) Photos - I've purchased a Flickr Pro account ($25 / year) for unlimited storage. I've scanned and uploaded photos there. Also, I purchased several 4 & 8 gig USBs from Walmart ($12 & $20 each) for a local backup too.

5) Documents - I been using Google Docs now for years. I just email or upload my documents to their cloud document storage (MS Word, PDF, HTML type documents are all supported). No need to keep them on my machine or in a file cabinet. Actually you can also toss your favorite word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation programs too. The ones at Google have all the features and more and are free.  The spreadsheet program provides email forms too.  Awesome stuff. Go ahead, lighten your load.


What to bring:

1) Spices - There are many spices we can't get in China. Ruth dumped several different kinds into little pill ziplock baggies and placed them into a plastic airtight container.

2) A few office supplies, a couple of good fountain pens & inks (good fountain pens are very hard to find in China), a few art supplies, a sketch book.

3) Coffee - We need this fluid. You can get coffee there but it's expensive and not very good. We'll start off with a few pounds of our own for now. Later we can go hunting for the China brands.

4) A Kindle eReader loaded with the latest books for reading. (See above.) It's so hard to find English books in China for reasonable prices. Most are around $20 and they are often used. Yikes!

5) Not sure what else . . . yet . . . stay tuned.  We'll probably figure it out AFTER we arrive.

...dave
The upper crust is just a bunch of crumbs held together by some dough. - Anon

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