SEPTEMBER – Friday 9th – Kindly met at airport by friends. Including an hour’s stopover in Shanghai this is a long flight and we are tired. No real dramas although we thought our luggage had gone missing at one point. They unloaded domestic luggage (from our stopover in Shanghai) on to one conveyor and international luggage on to another in an adjacent room. It gave us international-sized bags under our eyes for a while, until we twigged. After about an hour’s drive into the city we settled into our friends spare flat and collapsed into bed.
Saturday 10th – Property hunt along with De begins – today we traveled about half an hour by cab in a north westerly direction to see a couple of flats in a block built by a German firm. Outside appearance rather severe and grounds not all that well tended. First was a one bedroom flat owned by Megan a friend of De’s and the second a two bedroom, both fairly average to us even at this early stage. Overriding impression is that we are in a seller’s market – anything good goes quickly. (This is likely to become even more of a problem as property approvals have stopped so that construction is completed by 2007 in anticipation of the Olympics in 2008.)
Sunday 11th – Chat to Friend this morning. I am also trying to fix up what to do about my email. We walked around the local area which has always seemed pleasant, secure and well-maintained to us. We particularly like the look of five low-rise blocks facing south that are adjacent to the complex where we are living. On enquiry it appears this is ministerial level accommodation and probably very difficult to get into. Not in the break and enter sense, it looks very secure as well!
Monday 12th – Offered $500 on Wicks Road. Lilly wants to take it but we end up responding with $512. Went to local real estate agents (5i5j) this morning – they didn’t have anything for us. Also talked to a representative of the State Planning Committee who have plush offices in the basement (they own the whole area and are responsible for its development) about trying to find a place in one of the “ministerial” blocks; probably very expensive, but no harm in trying. She took our details and will contact us if anything comes up. We think it unlikely. We are still trying to resolve email access. We tried the internet café and then some helpful guys in the basement of one of the buildings in our complex. They tried to move heaven and earth to get us on broadband but eventually found the phone line into our flat was dead. We also tried to plug in through their system and download; all to no avail. Heaven was unmoved.
Tuesday 13th – Found that we can access email and manage it easily by simply logging into my ISP in Sydney. So all the drama with email has been resolved easily, silly me. Today we traveled with a couple of estate agents to see a second hand flat and a new one alongside the second ring road. The first was a combination of two flats at the top of six flights of stairs, no lift in the building. You are joking mate. The owners had spent Y700,000 on it and it was grossly over-capitalised. The second was a work in progress; neither in a good area. We then took a cab up towards the National Forest in the North just beyond the Olympic area. A beautifully done flat with innovative lighting was being sold by a lady who is off to Canada (Toronto). Silly her, NZ is a much better proposition. A great flat, but not such a great area unfortunately.
Visited Ikea Furniture, a massive store and then another agent took us to see a couple of second-hand apartments in the University area. Not our cup of tea, area wise. Speaking of tea, we are going to have to bring tea to China (like coals to Newcastle) as we cannot find Bells or Chooysa and the alternatives aren’t great. A decent cup of Bells or Chooysa right now would be worth more than all the tea in China. Finished the day with dinner with De and brother.
Wednesday 14th – Offered $505 on Wicks Road, we responded with a “rock bottom” $510. We spent today with Mr & Mrs Ren including a great lunch of dumplings at a restaurant that specializes in them. They have done a lot of research on housing (for their son and us) and showed us several real possibles; included were new one (furbished) and two bedroom options being developed by March 2006 by High Fortune International. Sensibly we will have to decide on these between 20 and 25 September because on the 20th they will decide on prices and on the 25th they will come on the market. Will there be a queue overnight? Who knows? Should we join the rush? Have to wait and see what the boss decides.
The other option was an Interwest development. This is a very big developer with a sound reputation. Very nice model apartments shown us but these are two years from completion and do we want to wait that long. Also not cheap, do we want to put the money in? Can we afford not to?
Tonight after dark I went for a walk by myself about a kilometre down a mainly unlit lane to the local thoroughfare to get an English newspaper – felt safer than walking around Chatswood at night. When I selected the newspaper I wanted, the vendor (a street vendor) held up 2 fingers. I gave her one finger but she again responded with two. It was all getting a bit rude so I gave up and paid her 2 yuan (about 35 cents). Better to face the wrath at home. It was all cleared up when I got home and discovered I had inadvertently picked up 2 copies of the newspaper. Anyway one China Daily for him and one for her.
Thursday 15th – Deliberately went across to the east side of Beijing today. East is rich, west is noble. (it goes without saying we are in the west and naturally have more affinity with that side). Saw several apartments in the Modern City development including a Y2.7m (about A$450,000) one owned by an American – in the main bedroom was a photo of him seated with Colin Powell and George Bush, just the three of them. I guessed he was a diplomat and we had a brief exchange of pleasantries because George Bush is visiting China in October. He agreed with me it would be party, party time. None of the flats stood out but we are learning as we go.
In another complex we saw a Y5million place. It was 25 floors up, on 2 levels and huge but ugly. Only the shell, it had not been furbished. The sweetner was a “free” balcony on the very top of the block. Lilly said she wouldn’t pay 500,000 (about A$80,000) for it and I said they would have to pay us Y5m to take the balcony off them. So there are huge disparities in value and asking prices, at least in our view. We had started off intending to spend about A$120 to A$130. We could get a small flat or maybe even 2 bedrooms, in an average area for that. If we want to double that we should be able to get something reasonably salubrious and central.
We took a cab out towards the eastern extremity of the city – it was raining a bit and we stopped off at some apartment blocks but quickly realized we were in a shabby area of the city. Girls without much on were displaying their wares in tiny little rooms with big windows and not much more than a bed and ready-for-the-draw curtain. So we backtracked a bit quickly. We returned to the CBD (Central Business District) which is east of the centre of the city itself (Tiannamen Square). After stopping for lunch we were confronted by a couple of smoothies who asked if we needed help. When we explained we were after an apartment, we were taken upstairs to an all-white mod mod office set-up called SOHO. In English this is Small Office Home Office but in China it is essentially small offices. While we were getting the sales spiel, a big group of Europeans also arrived to receive the ‘presentation’. Quite spectacular and cutting edge stuff in any countries language but not for us. After wasting most of the afternoon roped into presentations and traveling on little park box vehicles to view model offices we eventually escaped in a cab for home and haven.
Friday 16th – Today I was a bit squeamish and so we took it easy this morning. We even briefly considered MacDonalds for breakfast instead of our usual fare at a local hotel.
After an early lunch we poked a stick at real estate again. This time a young agent who was previously an army officer took us to see apartments at two locations, north west of where we are. In my opinion, at the first location, they were the best we had seen, value for money. One was owned by a cancer research scientist. They are moving to the US although their daughter is currently studying in Auckland. He was forthright and obviously highly intelligent and we wished them well. Their apartment was quite large, 2 bedrooms and a study and facing south (which is the sunny side). About Y1.6m and a possible. Another apartment in the same complex was also well-presented and gave us a good basis for comparison. About 20 apartment blocks of varying sizes in this complex. Lilly later said she thought it was too far out and as I invariably do, I agreed with my beloved.
We also visited a couple of apartments overlooking the canal that goes up to the Summer Palace. One owned by an architect who had to rush home after his wife left her keys in a cab (later tracked down and returned). Theirs was quite nice but on the north-west side of the building and not for us.
Finally we visited Park View and saw a number of furbished and furnished samples. Spectacular views over the park and a lake, but the appearance of the building and some of the finishing work was not acceptable to Lilly and therefore also not to me. You will go far young man.
Saturday 17th – Started narrowing the field down and recapping on what we have seen. Essentially decided the area suggested by Mr Ren was the most promising and one that Lilly (having worked there previously) felt more comfortable with. We decided to go and see it again. So we walked and took a bus and walked around the streets in the area of the Interwest and High Fortune International developments. Certainly a civilized and relatively up-market area, so no problem there. Met up with Mr and Mrs Ren and their son and had lunch. Discussed various possibilities. We are learning. Son took us all to lunch and then brought Lilly and I home. A very pleasant, professional, young (late 30s probably) man.
A quiet afternoon (mainly at the internet café) and evening at home recharging batteries.
Sunday 18th – Watched table tennis and tennis on TV quite a bit today. Spent time updating the website in the morning while Lilly searched the website for second hand places. My thinking is that there is a premium on new developments, you can’t tell how these developments are going to turn out, how well they will be maintained, who lives there, whether they are turning into offices or whatever. Lilly came up with half a dozen that yielded one possible, so off we went. We went first to the City of Mergence, a very ordinary development. Then we went back to High Fortune International but they had virtually closed down and there were only security people and customers and us loitering around. Lilly got talking to a customer who was a bit disparaging about the development. Turned us off it a bit.
Then we took off to the second hand place that Lilly had previously contacted. A young bloke met us outside and took us up. Transpires he is an agent and we thought we were dealing with the owners. Made things very awkward, particularly as this looked to be quite a desirable place. The flat is on the 19th floor in a central area, in a development, partly office and partly residential. There were other people also viewing the place and they were obviously interested. We asked the owner for her phone number but the agent warned us off, as he wanted us dealing through him.
Afterwards we wandered around the development for about half an hour, saw an indoor pool and indoor tennis courts and badminton courts. When we returned to the flat the agent was downstairs waiting, so we took off again. Much later we returned and went up to the flat. Lilly could see through the door panel that the customers we had seen earlier were sitting around looking at various documents. The agent was there too. So we were departed believing that we had missed out and others had consummated a deal.
Despite this we resolved that we would make one last attempt in the morning.
Monday 19th – First thing this morning we were off to the flat we had seen yesterday. No one there, so as a last resort we left a card with our mobile phone number. We then went to Inter West just across the road to check whether the flats we were keen on, were still available. One had gone and one was still available. They also confirmed that the block would be exclusively residential.
Then across the road to High Fortune only to find it had been practically sold out. So much for assurances that they were going to issue prices on 20 September (tomorrow) and buying would not commence until September 25th. Anyway good riddance to that option, because neither of us had ever been all that keen on it.
Ran into Mr Ren there and he recommended the Long Lake Gulf development so off we all went to look at it. This was a low rise overlooking the river with the zoo on one side. Nice for Lilly to have her relatives handy. She would say relatives only by marriage. This place was outrageously expensive and not a great area. Just then we had a call from the lady who owned the flat so off we went to see her, Mr Ren in tow.
We had another look around and told her we were interested in buying it. We didn’t negotiate because we believed the price was very reasonable, indeed in our opinion it was really cheap, almost suspiciously so. But the lady selling it is very pleasant, seems well-off and interested in doing the deal without hassles. And so began our little saga. She had another offer but was disposed towards ours. So Lilly and I went and withdrew Y50,000 which we gave her as a deposit. She gave us a receipt and we signed a simple agreement that if either party withdrew, a penalty of Y10,000 would apply. We agreed that each party would draft an agreement and put the drafts together tomorrow.
Later on questions were raised by phone as to whether Lilly could buy it. Le Di suggested we needed an agent and we considered WayWaJa (5i5j) to be preferable.
Tuesday 20th – Mr Ren arrived at our place early this morning warning about scam, scam, scam. No doubt we have lost the Y50,000. The seller phoned to say she agreed we needed an agent. First thing we went off with Mr Ren to find the Exchange Bureau to see if Lilly can buy the place. Unfortunately we ended up at the Land Resources Bureau. Lilly phoned the Exchange Bureau and they said no problem, so that was one issue settled, or so we thought.
We then went to meet the seller and her sister at the flat and lengthy discussions ensued in Chinese with me mainly watching the English Channel 9 and keeping a “watching brief”. Both sisters spent quite a while phoning around to find the best real estate agent. Lilly was the consummate professional and Mr Ren was at times a bit aggressive, Lilly reckoned even dodgy. At last an arrangement was made with an agent and as the lunch hour was approaching we took off for lunch (after seeing Mr Ren off) and a walk around the area. If this is a scam, it is extremely elaborate and plausible.
After lunch we joined the sisters and husband of the older sister who drove us off to the agents. Scruffy little office and nothing very impressive. The first surprise is that the agent reckoned Lilly will need to get permission to buy the property because she is not resident and does not have a local ID. The cat is thrown amongst the pigeons. No problem though, just go off to the local FBI and get the authority. So off we go. Unfortunately the approval is going to take five days and there is no guarantee we will get it. There is another complication. We need to provide the sellers ID and that causes a further problem. The seller does not want to provide it as her husband (presently overseas) has dual nationality which strictly speaking is not permissible to the Chinese authorities. The bottom line is Lilly cannot buy the property and the seller sees the deal unraveling. We sense she wants to go back and accept the other offer so she has a done deal. We are depressed about the whole thing because our enthusiasm was sky high and now it is shattered. Lilly soldiers on. She persuades the seller to leave it 24 hours. She phones the agent who suggests a complex series of transactions that substitutes them as buyer in the meantime. I don’t like it but Lilly is keen. The seller doesn’t like it. We see the Gramps (J’s grandparents). Lilly gives them the whole saga, chapter and verse without stopping for breath. She spends all evening on the phone. We go to our usual restaurant and she is too busy to eat, so we take food home, including a bowl of dofe and veg. Jin is coming through first thing in the morning and he will buy the property and transfer it to Lilly in 2 years. But he is not a resident of Beijing so will have to apply for a Temporary Resident Permit – hopefully this will not present problems when he arrives. The seller is persuaded to give us 48 hours. Are we still in with a chance? The seller wants to avoid the agents. We think not. I am tired chronicling the tale and I have only covered the bare bones. Lilly is talking, translating, persuading, pouring oil on troubled waters and keeping the dream alive. I think I am a lucky man to have her. She is smart, determined, diplomatic and very influential with her peers.
Wednesday 21st – I spoke too soon. Don’t feel so lucky this morning. Lilly woke up cranky. She had not slept well. Her first words at 6 this morning were to the effect: leave the furniture to me, why are we paying Y50,000 (about $8000) for it. (This is only an apartment full of virtually new furniture including a TV set you would pay at least $5000 for in Australia. It includes a lounge suite, bedroom suite and dining room suite. The sweetest deal imaginable but Lilly still wants to get picky about it.) I put my foot down, breaking the other foot as I did. Tried to convince her to be calm and rational; we have an agreement in principle, if not in writing. We are not sure whether we can pull the whole deal off anyway. Why upset the apple cart over detail. It is pointless arguing with her about it.
We have breakfast at our usual breakfast restaurant. She books a hotel room for Jin. She rushes off to see about a local ID for him. We argue about nothing. I back off and go to the park and catch up with the newspapers. Peace and quiet.
The Byzantine and convoluted way that some things are done here is extremely frustrating. It is no wonder, bribery and corruption thrives. The system itself nourishes it. To get around the often farcical rules you grease the way with favours or cash. We haven’t and won’t, but understand that’s how things work. Also there is now the extreme wealth of a handful, and a growing middle class of quite affluent people, co-existing with extreme poverty. So much for socialism – in 25 years it has disappeared. The communist system and thinking, however, still prevails. The bureaucrats are not all that well off and are therefore susceptible to bribery. The Chinese themselves are embarrassed about their systems and processes. It is a pity because China has many great traditions and the Chinese are clever, hard working and well intentioned. Among the older generation in particular there is much of the reserved old-world courtesy and good manners. Most of the Chinese are absolutely honest, although at times it may not appear that way because they have a more opaque way of approaching things – they find us more brutally direct. We tend to call a spade, a spade and come straight to the point; they deal with things in a more circuitous manner. We are wrong to misinterpret their approach as dissembling or as dishonesty. Nevertheless we are expected to understand this and deal with them accordingly. It would help to bridge the gap if they were prepared to reciprocate with a bit more transparency.
It transpires that Jin can enter into the contract and that it still may be possible for Lilly to be substituted on the title later, but without having to wait 2 years. We shall see.
We now need money to complete the deposit but the Gramps have forgotten their passwords and can’t provide it. De has his mobile switched off and we can’t get hold of him. Can Mr and Mrs Ren oblige with Y70,000? Why are such simple things, made so difficult? Newton’s law; if anything can go wrong, it will. Sometimes it reminds me of the frustrations we experienced when we first arrived in Nigeria in 1980.
Jin arrives, having caught a bus (after chasing it 15km by taxi) in Don Ying at 7 this morning. He immediately lifts our spirits. He is a genuine guy through and through and we are both delighted to see him. He is charismatic, smart and approachable. He strikes up a conversation with anyone in sight and you can see people are attracted to him immediately. We book him into his hotel, we all go off to the local Police Station and get a Temporary Resident’s Permit for him and make arrangements for a meeting at the agents tomorrow at 9:30. He is our buyer and things are starting to look up. Lilly is told she too can get a Temporary Residents Permit but for the moment and for the purposes of the contract, Jin is our main man. We go to the Ren’s and pick up Y70,000 including Y30,000 direct from the bank. We then walk around the local area of the flat and the development itself (swimming pool and did I mention there are two indoor tennis courts). Jin is impressed. We take him to Inner West and he sees the two models there. He is not so impressed, so just as well we have not bought one of those.
Dinner at our usual restaurant, new clothes for Jin (always looks sartorially elegant) website updating and by the end of the day we are all tired, Lilly particularly. She is not sleeping well and has had to shoulder the burden of sorting out all the details, keeping the big picture in mind, translating for me and answering a lot of my stupid questions.
Thursday 22nd – Breakfast at our usual and then off with Jin to the agents with the remaining money for the deposit. Even though she has not slept well, Lilly is happier and everything goes smoothly. Agreements are signed, Lilly is given a paper by the agents so that she can get the approval as a buyer, we make arrangements to go to the flat at 3 this afternoon and Lilly tells me the sister wants to have an agreed list of the furniture. We go back and have lunch at our usual. Lilly rushes off to lodge her passport and Jin and I have an early afternoon nap.
Visit the flat again with Jin, mainly to talk about furniture. Lilly is chief negotiator with Jin and me learning quickly where we stood in the decision making process. I watch Channel 9 (the English Channel) while Jin follows behind the ladies making out a list. Eventually she decided that we would pay Y10,000 for the lounge suite and various sideboards and consider later, depending on price, whether to buy other stuff. She is happy and so is everyone. The next highlight was a visit to the car space and then we said our goodbyes to the seller who is Lilly’s age and has been civilized and pleasant to deal with.
Jin wasn’t all that happy with the finishings in the flat but later admitted we got it at a good price. It was only because he felt Lilly had described it in more glowing terms. He went off to look at cars and price TV sets. By the way, three years ago there were 1100 TV channels in China, possibly more now. And 300 radio channels. About 60 TV channels can be sourced in Beijing.
Website updating (we agreed an offer on Wicks), dinner at the usual and chat/watching a war documentary in Jin’s room before heading home.
Bought one house today and sold another. That does not happen all that often in a lifetime.
Friday 23rd – Lilly and I wake up to another argument, this time about how much we need for furniture and to have here in China. This is symptomatic of deeply differing views on spending and saving and also as to who has the say, rather than actual dollars. We both have to make a bigger effort to understand what motivates each of us. Lilly talks about a deep-seated fear in the Chinese psyche. Maybe it is a fear of not having enough in reserve to look after yourself in old age. Maybe that is too simplistic. Sometimes I ask myself, what are we saving for? Often Lilly seems to be asking herself, why are we spending this? Finding a happy medium is the obvious answer but that is not so easy in practice, neither is happy with the outcome. I hope now that we have a property in Beijing, Lilly will be relieved and we can be more accommodating of each other. Sorry bad pun.
Jin goes off to look at cars and we go off to look at an architectural design place (fairly ordinary model homes with heavy furniture) and then to a classic furniture store – very expensive Italian and Spanish furniture – not suitable for us and anyway too flipping expensive.
This afternoon after lunch Jin joins us and we go south west to look at two huge stores – the first one with linings, doors, locks, panels, marble, flooring, glass designs and everything for refurbishing the interior of a house; hundreds of stores, all professionally done, with a huge range of materials to choose from. We are interested in some of the glassware, curtains, wallpaper and Chinese panels. The second store was a furnishing place – about 3 or 4 times as big as Harvey Norman in Tauranga and I don’t think we saw it all. A good look around before it closed at 5:30, all manner of furniture, but mainly low to mid-range stuff and extraordinarily cheap.
We are looking for a bit better stuff but not at the ridiculous prices of the classic furniture, or of that style. The Chinese style tends towards the ornate and very heavy furniture that looks presidential. Personally I like the Chinese style best when it steers clear of both. Simple lines and without the stolid look.
Dumplings tonight, a couple of beers and website updating. We are sitting at home tonight, Jin and I side by side on the couch watching TV and I notice he suddenly gets up, crosses to a chair on the other side of the room, takes off his socks and holds them in the air sniffing them at the same time. He tells Lilly that he concludes it is not his smelly feet, she tells me, so I fetch him a clothes peg from the laundry for his nose. He refuses to attach it. It is good to have Jin about, he is quick, hyper and like an academic let loose. If I ask him a question through Lilly, he answers it before she finishes. His IQ must be off the scale. Unfortunately he has very little English whereas with Wei we can understand each other at a basic level. Anyway Jin has family responsibilities and is going home to tomorrow.
Saturday 24th – The three of us have an early breakfast and then head north on a lengthy bus ride to a huge new car lot. Jin is thinking of buying and at this site all the cars and dealers and deals are taking place, occurring and happening; neither taut nor logical. We prod and stretch and lift and kick and act smart but don’t buy. He thinks the equivalent cars are too expensive. He wants a Mazda or an Opel – most of the car manufacturers have joint ventures with local companies and although cars are a bit cheaper in China, they are not vegetables or shirts. (Beans for example at one place today were one yuan – about 16 cents – a kilo, rarely are they under $6 or $7 a kilo in Australia or NZ. I keep an eye on the prices of beans because they are the primary source of dumplings and gourmet pleasure) A Madza 323 for example is about A$25,000 on road. That’s the sort of thing we would buy if we decide to have a car here. Meantime we will lease our car space for a year.
We traveled back and stopped off for a fondue lunch – not great because I had chilli in my fondue pot and it was so hot as to be unpleasant. Any residue left in my intestines will melt everything around and leave a gaping hole to the outside. Saves having a colostomy I suppose.
This afternoon we went by underground with Jin to the bus depot and off he went to Dong Ying. We will see him again shortly. He has been great support and counsels against rushing into deals. He doesn’t think we have been scammed but we will be checking carefully before we part with the big money.
Caught a rickshaw on the way back to the subway. The owner operator was about 50 and he had to take the two of us up a bit of a hill initially. He was also unlicensed and the Police were around so he was a wary. Hard work for him but he made 6 Yuan in about 5 minutes and Lilly had him talking and laughing. After coming back 3 or 4 stations by underground, we then stopped at a general store (1000s of separate vendors in a massive place on 6 floors) at the top of the subway and Lilly took off for an hour or so to find some bargains. As soon as the store keepers see a Westerner they double the price or maybe even add a zero, so I sat and read the newspaper while Lilly negotiated without the disadvantage of me looking over her shoulder.
As I sat there, I watched some slick Chinese girls in one store take a couple of large black American ladies to the cleaners. These silly women were buying items for Y100 that they could have bought for Y20 and then giving Y20 tips, or in one case having a Chinese girl extract the tip directly from the purse. At the end of the drama one of the Chinese girls put her hand on the shoulder of one of the black ladies, looked her in the eye and pleaded for some more money for her hungry children at home – the big-hearted American forked out another note – I think it was a Y50. As the big ladies left, the three Chinese girls looked at each other and rolled around in hysterical laughter. A couple more like that and they have had a good month. And that’s why America is running a huge trade deficit and China a huge trade surplus.
We have been here only a couple of weeks but have crammed so much into it that it seems like a couple of months.
Sunday 25th – Today Lilly and I went shopping to the oldest shopping area in Beijing and possibly in China. It is not far from Tiannamen and now mostly very modern and also popular with the tourists. I bought a business book for Y40 but at the foreign language bookshop, the imported books I was interested in were Y300 to Y400 ($50 to almost $70) so I will try websites first. People everywhere today, the underground crowded. Lilly shopped in a couple of places while I sat and waited outside with my new book. When I shop I have been trying a new Chinese phrase “tay gweela” meaning “too much” but then I don’t know what their response is. I have also been saying Arsha thinking it meant “how much” but in fact it means twenty. I wondered why some people were looking at me strangely. They must have thought what a sha gweilor (stupid westerner) when I pointed to a cheapie item and said twenty.
We had lunch at McDonalds today – quite tasty so we will do it again periodically. Hamburgers are relatively expensive in China with the equivalent price being only about half what they are in Sydney (most things are about a fifth). International economists use the humble hamburger’s values in various countries to determine relative currency values. On that basis the Chinese currency should be strong and eventually double in value in Australian dollar terms.
After lunch we moved back towards home on the underground, stopping at Xidan, another huge shopping area – not the same quality but more people there. Then home for a relax. We are both footsore and leg weary. The mileage we cover helps to keep us fit and perpetually tired. I knocked off a bottle of Chinese red tonight while watching the tennis. Drinkable if not that palatable, but at $3 a bottle you can’t complain. The beer though is quite acceptable and for a large bottle, already cold, bought off our local street vendor (who never seems to shut) we pay Y2 and get 40 local cents back for the empty. About 30 cents Australian for the contents of a 750ml bottle!! My beer allowance goes a lot further here; my belly likewise.
Monday 26th – The first thing we noticed this morning was a light bulb gone – now that’s something even I know how to fix – but then we noticed another one had gone and it finally dawned on us we had no electricity. Ditto for the area. We are on the 2nd floor here which is easy in and out, but for a lot of elderly people living in this twenty storey block it must be a bit of a nuisance. The lifts aren’t working. The power will be off all day we understand and will come back on at 7pm this evening. Right now I am using my computer with battery. When we went out and came back, trying to find the stairway and avoid people in the absolute pitch black was a lot of fun. Fortunately once you get up a flight there is natural light.
Today we had a chat to the Gramps and then went off furniture hunting. He agreed with me, the lads (including mine) should come back and spend a year in the Chinese Army. Anyway today we went west by cab. Lilly has taken to sit in front with the driver so she can explain where to go and they can consult the map together. Today it was after lunch and the cab driver smelt of booze. Lilly commented on this and the taxi driver explained that its OK to drink half a bottle of beer before driving – me somewhat disbelieving of any bloke that could drink the top half and not the bottom half of a bottle of beer and also aware of the frugal habits of the Chinese, said I hoped he didn’t waste the bottom half. The cabbie then explained at some length that, no he had used a glass and a friend had the other half. He was quite serious about it until Lilly explained that I was only joking. Nothing wrong with his driving and he dropped us off saying it was only a small place. Well we trudged around this place for what seemed like all afternoon and as we went along it expanded and kept on expanding – we discovered another floor then another building then another. There were huge areas devoted to lounge furniture of every description, then bedrooms, then offices, then dining rooms, then kitchens and so it went. Corridors as long as football fields (well almost) and criss-crossing east and west – all nicely laid out and with a lot of thought given to design and presentation. Some very expensive stuff and some very cheap stuff. We also saw some beds being sold by Promise Keeping Enterprise Co but were a bit worried that they had to resort to calling themselves that. We walked and walked and then walked some more. We have some ideas now for furnishing two bedrooms and we have a number of options for the lounge. It is all out in the future, probably when we next come to China. At 6 they closed and we caught a cab home to website updating, a meal at the local and home by about 8:30. The best feeling is the couch at the end of the day with the feet up. Since we signed the agreement 3 or 4 days ago, the pressure is off and we are happy with each other again. No arguments for 3 or 4 days. Life is good.
Broadband is cheap here and can be taken on a monthly basis. Fox is also cheap, about Y250 a year, but we don’t know how to access Channel 9 (the English channel) yet.
Tuesday 27th – Today more furniture hunting, this time to the South of the city, quite a long way on the 4th ring road; another huge place with much the same stuff as yesterday. Lilly is changing her mind – she started off wanting to steer clear of wooden beds and furniture for the bedrooms because of the wooden floors but today she is back on the wooden theme. I am keeping my counsel, mainly being my usual agreeable self and adjusting rapidly to public opinion. She wants the floral look for lounge suite and picks a brown one out. I take the opportunity to try one of the chairs as she talks to the shop assistant. This is the pattern of our furniture forays. We cover so much territory you take every opportunity to sit down, even if the suite has a brown floral pattern. I point out gently that she at least has the floral bit in common with Mother. She is either being very diplomatic or is too weary to reply.
At one point we see the identical set up of a beige leather bed and matching chair to one I liked yesterday. This is not in keeping with Lilly’s current desire for the wooden look but she reluctantly goes in to compare prices. There are some rather attractive flowers as well, but more on those later. It is a fetching set-up in my humble opinion. It is about Y7000 in all. There are two pairs of cheapie slippers on the floor alongside the bed as if someone had gone to bed and left their slippers beside the bed. Quite incongruous given that the furniture is so expensive. I ask if they will throw the slippers in. The Shop Assistant says no, you can actually buy them quite cheaply down the road. Silly little joke by me and typically serious response by them. When Lilly explains I was just joking, the Shop Assistant laughs politely. We poke our heads into the local restaurant in the furniture complex but retreat quickly.
We then head north-west by cab vaguely towards home. We visit another large store with materials on three floors and furniture on another three. This place has an American influence (a joint venture) and some of the furniture is very expensive. At the expensive end, it is either too ornate, too bulky or just plain uncomfortable. We see lounge suites for Y160000 (about A$26000) and stuff Lilly reckons is more proper for entertaining Governors General. We have no plans at present for that, neither of us know a specific Governor General well enough to have them along for a cuppa.
My beloved informs me we have spent Y100 in cab fares today – but Lilly my sweetness and light, that is only $17, we have traveled a long way, used three cabs, saved ourselves $10 in train and bus fares, saved possibly a couple of hours of time and added years to our lives. We are back in time for a McDonalds at three, then home for a rest.
Tonight I try the outfit downstairs again so that I can interface my laptop with the internet. It works perfectly on the Net except for the site that is the most important for me, my administration system. For some obscure reason I can’t access it. Bugger. I am getting twitchy about it because I need to get some reports off. Back to the internet café to do my updating.
Wednesday 28th – All is rosy in the land of the lotus. Things are falling into place. Lilly is relaxed and much happier. She gets us both laughing, taking me off about my discipline, army for the kids, homework first, discipline, homework second, no computer games, study before food, heads down tails up, homework before anything, discipline etc etc. The story of my life.
The Gramps having reactivated new passwords, withdraw their cash and hand us over Y100,000. Mr Ren comes around with bottles of wine and other gifts although it is us that should be bringing the myrrh and frankincense. We all troop off to the bank to repay his Y70 and put the remaining Y30 in our bank.
Lilly phones the Chinese FBI and there is no problem with her owning the property. We will get that approval tomorrow and have Lilly on the title rather than Jin. She will therefore definitely have to be here for the transfer and possession on December 12th, so will stay, rather than coming back. I will return to Sydney on Nov 8 and to NZ on Nov 15 as planned. Lilly will have some time in Sydney and hopefully be back home by Xmas.
We come back to the flat and go downstairs to the basement and the computer guys. This time I can access my administration system, no worries mate. Why I don’t know, but it may be that I have to restart after changing the settings – why everything else worked though, is strange. I am in the boss’s office and he looks a bit grumpy. Anyway I get a bit done, we have a late lunch, we have a rest and then walk off in the direction of a furniture store. We head towards our new place but we can’t find a furniture place so we go to a supermarket and buy a pair of shoes for me. The mileage is taking its toll on the shoe leather.
I can’t understand why it is that when I say something in Chinese like “dore shower teean” (how much) the shop assistant looks nonplussed. Lilly then repeats “dore shower teean” and the shop assistant then says ohhh “dore shower teean” and they both start giggling. Dats purcisely wot I sed, idn’t it? Why do they both have to repeat it and why do they laugh about it. Puzzles me.
But the penny has dropped on the “shane warne” (the Aussie cricketer). The Chinese say it all the time – it means ten million. In China they say ten million people on the street whereas in Australia we would say, thousands of people on the street. (in NZ the parallel is nobody on the street, particularly after five).
Thursday 29th – Today we go off by underground to get the approval for Lilly to buy the flat. It is 3 or 4 stations past Tiananmen except we change to the blue line, two stations along at Fuxingmen and go the other way for a change. You have to do it to understand it. There really are shane warne people on the trains and in the stations most of the time but they all seem respectable and it is just like Sydney at rush hour.
The weather has been good – warm, smoggy and not too hot, but today it is raining and we carry an umbrella. The Chinese FBI have their offices in the Henderson Shopping Centre another large complex of offices, shops and apartments. After picking up the document we wander around, looking at more furniture (some of it imported and very expensive) and flowers. Lilly is thinking artificial flowers might go well in NZ and Australia and we buy some samples. We are going to try and track down where they are made and see if we can get something going.
We also enquire about flats in the complex just to get a comparison. They look good from the outside but they are not all that great on inspection. It is a refurbished block, twelve years old and they are not of the standard of our place, in our opinion. Because they are more central, however, the prices are horrific. About Y17,000 a square metre compared to our Y9300. It confirms to us we have a good deal, particularly as we can register a company, if we want to later, at our place.
One thing I learned which I was not aware of, is that developers buy a right to the land from the government for 70 years and therefore do not have freehold title. It is not leasehold because an upfront payment is made to the government by the developer who then of course passes that on to the buyer via the purchase price. There is no continuing payment. The developer cannot therefore pass free title on to the “buyer” of the flat, as he does not have free title. The land reverts to the government at the end of 70 years and presumably it can do what it likes with the land/building. The suggestion is the government will not reclaim it at that point and there will be no hiccups. But who knows. The agent today admitted that the older the building and the further down the 70 year track, there is some dampening impact on prices. Anyway we have 68 years to run on our place and there will be other major influences on property prices in that time. Not something to lose any sleep over.
Updating, early dinner and early night.
Friday 30th – Today is agent day. We went to “our” real estate agent with Lilly’s approval to buy the property. That’s fine with the agent, who also says she will need a Temporary Resident’s Permit. Wheels within wheels – it is crazy given that the Chinese FBI have already authorised her to buy. The agent also explained that there is a National Titles Office where they can (and will) check that title is clear and there are no securities registered against it. This has been a bit of a worry to me because borrowing on property is relatively new in China and I was not sure how the process of registering a mortgage took place. Also the deposit is often paid over to the seller because neither buyer nor seller, trust the agent. Other issues were clarified. Lilly has to be here on transfer, she cannot provide a Power of Attorney.
Next we went back to Gramps to get their Household Register so that Lilly can get the Temporary Resident’s Permit. Then to get some passport sized photos of Lilly for the police. Then we go to the local Travel Agents to book our flight to Yantai. It is going to cost Y450 (A$75) more than we thought because Lilly did not book a couple of days ago. This is a little issue I have with my beloved, she never wants to book or pay for tickets until the last possible moment. We have walked all over Beijing to save a few dollars in cab fares then we forgo $75 because we don’t book on time.
We go back to the flat to get more money and upon our return we find we can go a day earlier and it won’t cost the extra Y450. I spoke too soon. Shut up John. Adopt the Chinese approach – if you don’t agree with something, say nothing for at least two days. It is a commendable quality. Lilly, my sun moon and stars, is westernized in this respect.
So we have our Yantai (where Wei and Ma are) tickets for the evening of October 3rd and Lilly will be at home for her 50th even if no one there remembers it. We have not booked the return because we will probably travel by bus to Don Ying (where Jin is) for a few days and then return to Beijing by bus, which is what we did last year.
Lunch on us with the Rens at our usual restaurant. They have been exceedingly good to us and we owe them a couple or three.
Next we go to the local police station for the Temporary Resident Permit. I read the China Daily while I wait. Lilly darts backwards and forwards between departments keeping me briefed about developments. Finally she strikes gold and gets the document with the proper stamp. The Police don’t believe she needs it, but they grant it anyway and so all is well. (Given Lilly’s somewhat unusual status as a Permanent Resident of another country and having been a Beijinger previously – yes they found her previous record of about 15 years ago, all carried manually, no computer record). And there are only 15 million Beijingers.
Then we are off to the China Airlines travel agents to change the homeward journey. The agents are very helpful and professional. Lilly will now arrive back in Australia on December 19th but can’t get on a flight home until Christmas Day. No charges for the re-bookings, even the NZ leg. So she will arrive in Auckland at 4pm on Christmas Day!! Best Christmas present a guy could wish for.
We are two stations from Tiananmen and tomorrow (October 1) is National Day. This was the great day of the Communist Revolution established by Chairman Mao. This is the anniversary of the day that Communism in China was launched. A holiday mood is prevalent throughout the city – decorations are going up and there is a lot of patriotic singing and celebrations on TV. Tinanamen Square on the eve of the big day is very busy – there are more people in the Square than there are in the whole of Tauranga, our home town. The flower displays are impressive and Lilly and I wander around taking snaps. Street vendors sidle up to us with all sorts of offers. Rather than brushing them off as we mostly do I engage with some of them today. They tend to have a phrase or two in English and I can respond with a very limited word or so in Chinese – it is mainly for laughs, although occasionally we have bought something. One particular guy was a bit of a shorty but his bad breath wafted straight up and was so overpowering we had to give him short shift. Bad breath is not recommended in the book on product marketing at close quarters in Tiananmen Square. We watch the soldiers in the Square, they are disciplined and march very properly, going through their routines or standing absolutely still for hours. Many of them are tall, quite a bit taller than Lilly and I. I think of the lads I would like to see there and in a way wish that too had been my lot a year or three ago.
OCTOBER Saturday 1st – Today is National Day and the roads are not so crowded. People are still selling, shops and restaurants are open and the street vendors are still all there. (Some of them have almost permanent establishments, even with lighting.)
This morning I spend almost four hours in the basement at the computer outfit and get a lot of work done. Catch up on email and get all my reports off. Lilly has asked Wei-Ping to investigate installing broadband for a month at Ma’s place – if it can be done I will have something useful to do while Lilly spends time with her Mum.
While I am working, Lilly gets the ingredients for jeowza (dumplings) and we have our best meal to date at lunch time. And then have a rest before going off for a long walk around the local park. It is a 160 hectare park, including water (mainly lakes) of 60 hectares. It is beautiful and reasonably well-maintained given its size. A lot of families there today; also quite a number of people swimming in the water for exercise. In one area there are men and women sitting around with little notices in front of them. These are mainly middle aged and professional looking people. Many of them are sitting there chatting; probably about a couple of hundred of them. After we passed through Lilly tells me these are people looking for a partner (or are looking for a partner on behalf of a friend) and this is a cheap and practical way of meeting somebody who is also on the hunt. She didn’t want to stay there herself and I noticed she held on to me pretty tight as we picked our way through the candidates – I must still be in with a chance.
There are also a couple of small lakes where people are sitting around almost shoulder to shoulder fishing. While we are there, we actually see a fish caught. The competition is intense. On the way back we see an old bloke with two identical little terrier dogs, little beauties. I say “nee hen peeowlea” to him which in English is “you very beautiful”. I should have said “tay hen peeowlea” “they very beautiful”. He was pretty ugly actually and I don’t think he understood my Shandong dialect anyway.
Dinner at our usual and home early to watch the diving and news on TV. There were evidently two Taurangas in Tiananmen Square today, so just as well we didn’t go. The Gramps leave 4 cold cans of beer on the table in our flat, bless them.
Jin reports to Lilly he has been to a fortune teller and everything is OK with our buying of the flat. We are not being scammed. That’s a big relief, now I can sleep. But the really funny thing is that it would be difficult to find two more down to earth and logical people than Jin and Lilly (well Lilly mostly), yet here they are taking confidence from the prediction of someone 500km away who hasn’t a clue about the deal or the people involved. Lilly tells me that superstition will remain an important part of the Chinese psyche for generations.
Sunday 2nd – This morning we take off to the far west to see some electronics stores about 5 stops out from MuxCD between the 4th and 5th ring roads. The stores have got a big range of TVs, computers, mobile phones and whitegoods. We check out the washing machines and TVs. The technology has moved on past Plasma to LCD with ever higher resolution, although still a bit untested. We can buy a washing machine that will heat water and a TV that will swivel, do a double pike and pour a cold beer. My understanding of technology stretches as far as the ON OFF button. You need a Ph D in electronics to understand and use all the features of this stuff.
We come back home and go to the bank to withdraw money. Lilly also wants to open another bank account (with a passbook) so that the Gramps can easily put money into it for us. I wonder why we need another account. Why can’t money, big or small be lodged direct to Lilly’s existing account? Why complicate a simple bank function that goes on millions of times a day, here in China as well. Makes no sense to me. I ask her to confirm it can be done with the bank. So she confirms it, but we still argue about it, neither willing to give way to the other. Stupid stuff really because I don’t mind if she has another account and she can open one at any time anyway, with or without my knowledge.
Monday 3rd – Today we have a quiet day – Lilly mainly packing – me at the internet place in the basement updating my website etc. Spend a bit of time with the Gramps and then take off by cab to the airport. Lilly is in combative mood and has a bit of a run in with the cab driver who is an unpleasant character – I can’t tell what the exchange is but he is loud and harsh. They patch things up by the time we arrive at the airport about 40 minutes later. Wish Lilly and I could patch things up within 40 minutes! This is holiday week for many and the roads are a bit quieter. A good straight run to the airport. Cab fare about Y80 from memory including Y10 for the freeway toll. We book in early and get seats up towards the front of the plane.
As we go through the security check we are told we can’t take 2 six packs of beer onto the plane. These are gift packs of mixed Aussie cans for Jin and Wei – Lilly argues about it and then puts them in a separate bag and takes them way back to the ticket counter and books them on as luggage.
We wander around some of the airport stores – mostly very expensive stuff even by Western standards. Lilly wants nothing for her birthday – figuring that our flat is this years present to each other. She thinks the family won’t even remember she is 50 tomorrow and argues her birthday is really the 7th anyway. When you get to the 7th she then says it was on the 4th. She doesn’t want a fuss and I have learned over the years that I am not good at selecting birthday presents for her. Almost always they are returned.
As we go through check-in, they are stopping people with the heavy hand luggage and ours is too big. They are sorting them out and are going to load them separately. There are several already set aside and they are providing a receipted sticker. I agree to it, but Lilly is infuriated. All our important flat and other papers are in the bag. She argues. They stick to their guns. She reluctantly complies, opens the bag and takes out the important stuff. We board and she relaxes. It is only an hour to Yantai and Wei and his wife Chin are there to meet us. It is a bit cooler than Beijing and I am glad I wore a jacket.
We head off for Ma’s in Wei’s little van. Ma seems to be in good health. She is just too frugal for her own good. I learn that her electricity and water bill each month is Y5 (about 85 cents). We really must cut back on waste and implement cost saving measures to try and get this back to Y3 a month. I suggest she can make savings by not turning on the power at all and using just rain water! Ma is horrified when we talk about spending 2 or 300 Yuan on putting in a phone line and broadband for a month. I can add value to my website, equivalent to this in a morning’s work! Lilly tells me she is worried about not having enough in her old age and she therefore saves and saves. Lilly has reassured her before about this but there is a deeply entrenched fear in the Chinese of ending up with nothing and not being able to look after themselves. I suppose it is understandable, given what past generations have suffered.
Tuesday 4th – Lilly and I are in the main bedroom upstairs. Ma is now living downstairs. The whole place is very spacious, and really quite nice, with marble floors, white walls and attractive wooden finishings. Only on close inspection do you see that some of the finishing is sub standard. Our bedroom is half as big again as our bedroom at Boscabel. The bed is big and modern but there is no mattress. There are a number of quilts covering the wooden base but it is still hard. I am too soft and don’t sleep all that well.
Jin Pin and Ma have these two places side by side, with a joint wall. Each has a lounge, 4 bedrooms, study, 2 bathrooms and a kitchen and eating room. The bathrooms and kitchens are very basic but the rest is really quite good accommodation and there is plenty of room. Jin’s side of the building has never been occupied or rented.
Unfortunately the whole area is being razed to the ground to make way for high rise. They have already demolished about three quarters of the area and this place will follow shortly. It is a pity really because it was only built 4 or 5 years ago. There were not many buyers. Not very good planning on the part of the local council. Jin and Ma will be compensated by being given flats in the new high rise, but how many flats and of what standard, nobody knows.
Lilly and I go off to the local supermarket and carry back a box of water. This is a different world from Beijing but it is certainly better now than it was a year ago. I then walk off in search of flowers for Lilly’s birthday. I walk quite a long way and see a lot of small retail outlets, most catering to the refurbishment and furnishing of houses. Some people say Hello and I respond with Nee How to smiles and giggles. But forget about the flowers, this is not the area for anything so superfluous or impractical. Lilly does noodles for breakfast, pretty tasty.
After breakfast we wander around again, see the demolition work, buy meat and veg at the local street market and inquire about internet usage (there are several cafes handy) and broadband. Ma sits and studies and writes. She is in a little world of her own. Last night we arrived a bit later than she expected so she lit incense and prayed for our safe arrival.
Jeowsa for lunch, the best yet. Wei and Chin arrive and off we go to the beach.
It is still holiday and there are a lot of people at the beach. It is late afternoon and we are in shirt sleeves. A bit later we put our jumpers on. There is a stretch of sand in the distance but the “beach” where we are, is a huge paved area overlooking the sea. The kids are skating and there are people flying kites, walking, running and fishing. We approach some of the middle-aged guys flying kites and talk to them a bit. It is also a competitive sport and when competitions are held, prizes are awarded for the biggest, the most beautiful, the longest tail, the furtherest out etc etc. They all have a wooden handle arrangement to wind the thin nylon rope in and out and wear gloves. Some have 600 metres of nylon. These are pros. One says it helps to pass the time. Another agrees it is better than watching TV. When I ask one if his wife is pleased it takes him out of the house, he takes me seriously and says his wife flies kites as well. One guy has just bought a kite (Y15) and the nylon twine (Y30) and is assembling it. It is a jig saw puzzle. Wei contributes some engineering expertise and finally it is done. It is a colourful flying eagle with a clever wing movement when airborne.
Many people say Hello – there are not so many westerners here and some want to practice their English. One says in quite good English “welcome to Yantai”. A couple of well dressed guys approach us with a camera and I am surrounded by businessmen for a snap. I get my e r sun (1,2,3) out as the shot is taken and everybody in the photo and around is laughing at my Chinglish.
We walk off to a restaurant for dinner. It is very presentable and the food is great. A focus on seafood and you go into this huge room to select your own fish, all manner of shell fish, prawns, crabs etc. They are all alive for viewing in tanks one minute and 20 minutes later are on your table ready to be eaten. The meal is delicious. Wei’s good friend joins us, he is going through a divorce and it is evidently a very hard time for him. We have met him and his wife a number of times before, including in Sydney. They have a lad at school in Canberra. We have a beer or three and Wei and Chin take us back to their place to try the broadband. It is deadly slow. We see Wei’s huge fish in his aquarium. They take us home.
I go off to an internet café to update my website. I tell Lilly which one I am going to, she will follow shortly. When she does, she can’t find me – she goes in two directions and she gets concerned. Wei and Chin also start searching – in one the operator says no we have no Westerner, come in and see for yourself if you don’t believe me. I am eventually located but the broadband is so slow, it is painful waiting for it. I will try again in the morning.
Wednesday 5th – We take Ma to the hospital for her drip – it takes a couple of hours so I take off to the internet café for updating. The broadband is quicker this morning but still tests the patience. While Lilly is waiting at the hospital she has a young doctor check her heart. They do it in the same way as taking the pulse but do it for several minutes. They can tell a lot more about the heart than just your pulse rate. Lilly has been under stress and the doctor picks it and prescribes medicine. She says she wants him to check me as well when I finish my work. He is happy to do so.
Later when I arrive he is not on duty but his older colleague is there. He checks me out – says everything is OK, reckons I have the physical age of a 40 year old, but I don’t know whether he is kidding or not. Blood pressure 130 over 85, reckons that’s pretty good (Lilly’s is 125 over 80). He sees a bit of discolouration on my skin; sunspots here and there like most people have and asks if I drink. Lilly says yes and that leads to a long diatribe about the dangers of alcohol. I wonder if I was set up in advance. Lilly assures me not. Anyway I solemnly promise never to drink again, at least not in the mornings. He then checks Lilly out and says his younger colleague is too ready to prescribe medicine. Reckon’s Lilly is pretty healthy too. Like me she’s also 40. I diplomatically refrain from pointing out that Lilly doesn’t drink otherwise like me she could be 20 years younger than her real age. Anyway now we are both 40, what better match could there be? Must get this belly off though, ironically China is not helping that cause.
Wei and Chin also arrive at the hospital. Now here is a drinker and this is an opportunity for Lilly to get stuck into him about it. I sympathise in silence, while he squirms.
We look around for who can put the line in so that we can get broadband. Typically the issue is cost rather than convenience and speed. For me the cost is nothing and I can save more than that in a couple of hours by adding value to my website. Nothing demonstrates it more than the Y5 (less than a dollar) monthly electricity bill. Even Lilly is caught up in the frugality with the result that we don’t want to spend $50 or $60 on broadband so that I can add thousands of dollars to the value of my website. It is exasperating for me and reminds me of the first year of the website when Lilly was cantankerous about me spending time and money on it because it was yielding nothing. It has turned out to be quite profitable overall and has potential, only because I have kept the faith in spite of her negativism. If I had taken Lilly’s advice, nothing would have been spent and nothing would have been gained.
Tonight I am again annoyed with Lilly. But I keep the peace. She is negative about my thoughts of setting up a website in China. All she sees is minus, minus, minus. I try to talk to Wei about it. Chin helps with some anecdotal stuff but Lilly is overwhelmingly “forget about it, forget it, you know nothing, you have done no research. You are hopeless.” Wei is also obviously upset with her negativism. To Lilly, research is everything. She will spend her years collecting information about this and that – table cloths, jeans, water purifiers, fruit packaging, home-stay, clonsome, curtains, clothes, you name it and the latest is flowers. But nothing ever happens because she will have to spend money. God forbid. I am resolved to move forward, we can spend our lives on research.
Notwithstanding Lilly’s dogmatic views we have a very pleasant evening with Wei and Chin and Ma. Ma has some beautiful calligraphy and we can have some of it for the study in Beijing.
Thursday 6th – Today I take my laptop to the café and get new IP settings and am on line, hallelujah. The line is a bit quicker today at 7am and I download stuff to work on at home. By 8 o’clock more and more people are arriving and the line slows. It tests the patience because it is often slower than dial-up in NZ.
This morning Lilly and I go off to search for a phone to call Mother – we try one source but the woman doesn’t know the starting code so we wander in the direction of the local Post Office. It is fascinating wandering down the street here. It is not as busy as Beijing and where we are, there are little retail outlets (mainly building and refurbishing materials) all along both sides of the street. The shopkeepers often sit outside waiting for custom. None of them ever seem to have any customers. Behind the shops are apartments of six floors in gated complexes (the complex may have four or five or even 20 separate buildings). The developers can go up to 6 floors without having a lift so many of them are 6 floors. In one place there is quite a large field of maize bordering the road. I call it the local park. In a year or so that will be overtaken by apartments. We are about half an hour from the centre of the city and I suspect we are nearing the outskirts but it is hard to tell. Yantai, sister city to Tauranga, has 1.5 million people although the locals sometimes say 6 million. But that is county or district I think, a much greater area than the city itself.
As we wander along I see a bloke sitting at a little work bench using a wood-plane. He is a woodworker making furniture like lamp stands and stools. Quite nice stuff and he is really an artisan. He invites us into his little store (a dark ramshackle place selling all sorts of hardware and tools). His wife is behind the counter. He insists we sit down on stools and have a chat. Lilly says he has never had a foreigner in here before and wants to make the most of it. Turns out he is my age and we talk about NZ and Australia with Lilly telling him and his wife all about. Lilly is in her element – she is a great conversationalist and keeps everybody spellbound with anecdotes, including my clumsy attempts at Chinese. At one point the wife goes off to the toilet and a customer enters. I move quickly around behind the counter and ask if I can assist. Put a box of something on the counter and ask for jeow kway (Y9). Everybody has a giggle and we part in high spirits.
Wei and Chin draw up in their little van with Ma and off we go into Yantai for lunch. Wei wants me to talk to his daughter Suzy over lunch. Chin goes off to get Suzy from the school. We go to what looks an expensive restaurant serving both Chinese Yum Cha and steaks. Suzy and I have steaks and mainly a question and answer session. Her English pronunciation is good but she struggles to follow mine and I need to speak slowly and simply for her to understand. As with J it would take a year or so to get reasonably up to speed. She is 16 and has a bit more than a year to go at high school, then off to Uni. She doesn’t know what she is going to do at Uni. She is a real sweetie. We drop her back at school and go to Wei’s office.
He seems to be doing OK – he is really an export agent arranging the bottling and canning etc of fruit for the international market. Chin works for him. Sometimes he sources the fruit containers. Other times they are provided. He organises a local factory to fill them and then exports the finished products. Cherries, peaches, pears and apples seem to be the main products. He has a laboratory background in processed fruit so he knows the business well. He also has a great range of contacts and spends a lot of time socializing, essential for business in China. We talk to Mother on the phone. Her back has been giving her a lot of trouble but is better again. I tell her they are all amazed to hear she is still driving at 86 and to get fit for her trip to Beijing. Wei gives us a rundown on what he is doing.
He takes us off to a large new retail complex. It is situated in a poor area and is too expensive. There are very few people around. We wander about looking at some wall hangings, pictures and other gifts etc. Then back home for website updating (tried a different place) tonight and a dinner of shellfish and jeowsa. Wei and Chin stay and a good time is had by all.
Internet cafes are the business to be in. They are full of teenage boys and young men playing computer games. The kids are noisy but at least their addiction keeps them off the streets. Within half a kilometer of where we are, there are at least six internet cafes.
Friday 7th – Ma goes off first thing this morning for her three hour drip, Lilly spring cleans on her 50th birthday (the story of her life) and I get on with my computer work (the story of mine). Lilly collects flowers grown on the side of the street and puts them in vases. She is happy and carefree. We hug and have a few laughs. She asks me I remember our first hug. To my chagrin, I don’t and she gets great delight out of reminding me. Men are from Mars.
We go for a long walk, but the weather looks iffy and we take umbrellas. We walk to the end of the road and take a right. We are entering now what looks more like the centre of the suburb. They are replacing the paving on both sides with brick. About 10% of it is done. We watch them at work, not much different from how we do it.
We enter a market. It is about 5 metres across and half a kilometer long. It is covered by a circular roof, there are shelves and little stores all the way along selling veges and all manner of food. There are more people here and it is noisy and smelly. In between the stores on each side there is a two metre wide track. Competing for space on this track are shoppers on foot, cyclists, scooter riders and vege purveyors (bicycles with wide trays on the back crammed full with fresh veg). It is a fascinating place with every conceivable fruit, veg, animal, bird and insect for sale, either sliced and diced or boiled, fried or raw.
We buy fish and veg and bread and on the way back home it rains. Luckily we have umbrellas. Wei and Chin have arrived with more sea food and we have a good lunch and chat. After lunch Lilly is suddenly cranky about nothing and launches into one of her tirades. This time it is me on the receiving end and it is Wei’s turn to observe in silence. She goes on and on until it becomes embarrassing for everyone and eventually I take off to the internet café to update my website.
Tonight it is slow until about 5:30 and then it is almost as if someone flicks a switch. Suddenly it is red hot like Australia and I can get things done quickly. I compliment them when I book out.
Saturday 8th – You are suffering Dear Diary because I have found yet another love. This time it is decent broadband at 7 am in the morning in the cafe I was in last night. There is a separate room where I can hook up my laptop all by myself. I am paying three times the rate of the other customers (Y3) but 60 cents an hour is not going to send me broke.
I finish at 10 and Lilly and I go for a long walk. We look at furniture places, a nursery and several flowers and clothes shops. She buys a top for Ma. We can’t find an English newspaper but it is fun asking. One guy was asleep and I apologized for waking him. There are very few foreigners seen around here so everybody stops for a look. Lilly is tall and she also gets admiring glances from the blokes and jealous ones from the girls (after they see me!). I am not all that keen on the attention but everyone is friendly and some are even chatty.
The top is too small for Ma when we return so they get the old bike out and Lilly cycles back and gets a bigger size. I work offline now that I have stuff downloaded. A relaxing and peaceful day today. We go to bed early to watch a bit of sport on TV and tackle the ubiquitous mozzie. They keep us awake at night so we try to knock them over beforehand. Tonight we missed some and at 12 were both awake having another go. Little buggers. They know when we are on the rampage and make themselves invisible.
Sunday 9th – I was at the internet café this morning for another go. The broadband is pretty quick (the café is virtually empty) and I can work quietly and efficiently. Get a lot done and I am starting to feel a bit more positive. If I can have a few more sessions like that I will be up to date. Home about mid-morning for more work off-line and I work until about 1pm. Lilly is finding some of her old clothes and modeling them. She poses the question each time, “will you marry me?” If I say yes, the clothes are still acceptable wear. Mainly I say yes but secretly I hope she will find something (not someone) a bit better when we get to the big day.
This afternoon Wei and his friend Mr John take us to visit a local artificial flower producer. The first impression is that the flowers are all 20 years old. There are some nice ones though and we pick out a selection for prices. We see what a couple of his girls are making and then go into the city – we are too late to visit another place so come home to pick up Ma and then go part way back to a seafood restaurant with Wei and Chin. Food OK, beer good.
Monday 10th – Early start at the internet café and continue working offline at home.
Today Wei picks us up early afternoon and we take off to the city and visit an embroidery/tapestry place. Again a lot of the hand-woven framed pictures look fit for another age or in a classic style for the older generation. Some of them are beautiful and there are a couple of large pictures of Chou en Lie and Dung Showe Ping. Both done from photos, they are incredible works. We see the floor where about 15 ladies are designing and preparing the tapestries. They are very quick with their work. We get some prices and off we go to another flower place.
This one is a giant step up-market from the one we saw yesterday. Their display is peeollea (beautiful) and they have some nice lines. I am followed round by the pouting, poncy Sales Manager, Jennifer who has been in the UK for a few years and fancies her English and herself. She asks me questions about flowers and the Australasian market which test my ingenuity. I try to avoid her. Minimum order is 30 dozen of any one line but most of them are less than one US dollar so that we would not be spending more than 500 NZ dollars on any one line. I think buying about $5000 would be a good way to start. If we could find 3 or 4 other giftware products to complement it, we would have a reasonable initial investment, probably involving thirty thousand NZ all up with freight etc. If we buy right, selling should not be a problem.
Back to Wei’s office and out to dinner locally. We walk up a street (food street) lined with restaurants and go to one that is made up in the old countryside manner. The restaurant is called Socialist New Countryside. There are wheelbarrows, scales, feed bins and other accoutrements of a past age. The waitresses wear the armbands of Mao’s Red Guards and they call us Comrades. One dish is called “cultural revolution”. We end up in a small room all to ourselves and the food is good. The wall is covered in writing, all relating to the period of Mao and the cultural revolution. In one place there is a little verse that includes one line saying “Socialism is good” but that particular line has been crossed out. Not everyone agreed! Again plenty of beer, this time drinking out of a shallow dish rather than a glass.
We then go off to a Karaoke joint. We are in a huge padded cell, just the four of us. There is a large TV and a facing couch. There is a wide selection of songs and they all key in what they want to sing in advance. There are two mikes. It is non-stop. Wei is quite a singer and so is Lilly. Chin also sings. I thoroughly enjoy it all. Lilly tackles some of the older passionate Chinese, almost military songs and Chin and Wei go for more modern stuff. We polish off a few more beers. They bring us all the way home again. It is quite a round trip every day and then often again at night and I want us to get a cab. Wei won’t have any of it. They have been unfailingly considerate and kind to us at every turn. It is one o’clock by the time we get home.
Tuesday 11th – Early start again at the internet café. Getting things accomplished even though it is slow this morning. The weather is beautiful – today it is really hot and sunny. The days start early and finish early. The evenings are cool and night closes in quite fast shortly after five. That’s when Lilly and I need a jumper.
We have a quiet day at home today to recharge the batteries. All the food and beer are taking their toll a bit – quite a long nap this afternoon. We went to the market, with me wheeling the old bike so that we could get veges and water. Watched guys gathered around chess boards playing chess. A lot of arguing, suggesting and gesticulating and the play is pretty aggressive with the wooden pieces being slammed down on the wooden board. This is Chinese Chess which is similar in some ways but I think has 81 squares instead of 64 and if anything is more complex. I don’t even begin to understand it.
Talk to Ma about getting her settled in a proper flat (not too big) when this place is demolished. We both think it would be good if she has two places and can be close to Wei here and close to Jin in Don Ying and then can come and spend time with us when we are in Beijing. Her flats should be small two bedroom places on the first or second floor with security doors, fridges, phones, flush toilets, proper shower etc. The basics that we take for granted. It shouldn’t cost too much to find something in the right environment. She lives too much hand to mouth at present and she doesn’t need to. This is not a great environment and she is isolated. At least while Lilly is here she eats properly and is also happy having her daughter with her.
Tonight after dinner we went for a walk up the street to the north. Just around from the hospital we see a gym and some table tennis tables. So we stop there for an hour and have a game. Good fun except I am very frustrated with my game and can’t seem to connect properly at all. The local area is not all that great, but fascinating nonetheless. Lots of small restaurants, some of them pretty dingy and grubby looking. Sorry we won’t be eating there. A lot of it looks rundown. Shops etc are still open in the evening but nobody seems to do much business except for the internet cafes.
Wednesday 12th – Start at the café and then shopping for veges at the local market. Have some exchanges with the locals – they tempt us with hot cornflake pikelets and we buy a few. Everything is extremely cheap at the market for us anyway. Ma tells Lilly the nurses at the hospital get about Y400 a month (does she mean, a week?). Whatever, it is still bugger all. Mind you they ride bicycles, food is cheap, housing may not cost much if anything and electricity and water (at least by Ma’s standards) is ridiculously cheap. Maybe they can save a couple of hundred a month!! I tell Lilly if my time is worth $100 an hour, I am worth about 4000 nurses. She is doubtful. The Rens (previously senior civil servants) told us their combined pension is Y5000 a month and they save Y4000 a month. Not sure what they are all saving for, maybe a brainy day.
Another quiet day, thank goodness. I work a bit and am getting my website back in shape. I have a nap and watch the Chinese basketball team (with the guy that is 4 metres tall) clean up the Lebanese. Lilly and I play another frustrating round of table tennis (slightly improved on yesterday) and I spend about an hour at the internet café. It is busy, I use one of their computers and it is incredibly slow.
Lilly is now on Lesson 926 for Ma. They are making bowtzer (large dumplings) for dinner. I can hear them talking. They have a lot of catching up and Lilly has been saving up her instructions. She is well-intentioned, even if at times she gets a bit dictatorial. She wants to upgrade Ma’s thinking and change her life for the better. Is it too late for that? I think Ma is accepting on one level. But then her background kicks in. I think she will always be extremely frugal and adapt to creature comforts almost reluctantly. But Lilly persists. All the lessons and instructions have been filed away in the pigeon holes of her brain for easy access. In many ways her mind and memory are exceptional. I still think I am her equal in being able to conceptualize but how often do we use that little bit of the grey stuff? When it comes to numbers she is sublime. With words, she has a dozen to my one. With languages she is the linguist. Her ability to create order out of chaos is formidable. And she even thrashes me at table tennis. At least I even things up a bit by being the more accomplished drinker. Yes, tea drinking is where my real talent lies. And eating bowtzers, they are delicious.
Tonight we watch a spectacular Opening Ceremony on TV for the Chinese games. I think they are held annually. Like a mini-Olympics, all the provinces of China get together and compete. A province like Shandong has 100 million people, more than all but a handful of countries. The premier Hu Jin-Tao opens the games – the President of the International Olympic Committee is also there. This is a trial run for the Olympics and very well done.
Thursday 13th – Lilly and I wake up discussing business. She wants to bring a container of stuff into Sydney. I had thought we were going to do this for the NZ market. But she writes it off as being too small and the people too poor. Are you crazy, we can’t make money in NZ. She wants to sell via a Trade Fair and direct to the big chain stores like Grace Bros and David Jones. I am not convinced that’s the way to go but at least say that I will support her, whatever she decides. My heart is not in it though. I think we should start in NZ where we live and have space. Buy 4 or 5 giftware lines, source them locally if possible where we have Wei’s support and ship them in time for the Christmas 2006 season (it is far too late for this year). By all means go to a Trade Fair but don’t think money is going to drop out of the sky. It will take time, need marketing, possibly a website and certainly brand identification. Customer goodwill and loyalty is hard to win and retain. We think certain flower lines will go well, but let’s also look at some other lines, then see what is already being sold in NZ. There will be other giftware suppliers in NZ, who are they and what do they do? When we are satisfied we have products with potential, aim to be back in China buying in Feb/Mar next year and start at a Trade Fair in Auckland about mid year. (need to establish when they are held and planned).
The other option is for me to do some research when I first get back, even if just in Sydney and Auckland. Give Lilly my thoughts so that she can buy before she returns. The third option is for me to butt right out of it. Support her with the cheque book in whatever she wants to do but otherwise keep away from it. I have a website to run and also want to start thinking about setting up a website in China. Maybe that’s the best way – we have difficulty discussing anything quietly and logically. I suggest going to the Guangzhou Trade Fair which starts in about 10 days but she doesn’t want to know about it. Here we are in China talking about exporting stuff from here, one of the world’s premier Trade Fairs is on, we are running out of things to do here in Shandong and she doesn’t want to go.
Not much happens today except for the usual sessions at the café etc. Apart from the business thing I am in relax mode.
Friday 14th – Not much happens today except for the usual sessions at the café, table tennis etc. Work about half the time, relax the rest, this is holiday time. Walk through lower class area tonight, lot of people about.
Tonight Lilly and I have a long talk about our business plans. I explain that I am only interested in the importing thing so that feels she has something rewarding and fulfilling to do in NZ and I am hopeful this may be it. We do not need to make lots of money out of it. There is no pressure on her whatsoever. The problem is she puts pressure on herself. We consider the possibility of just buying artificial flowers which she feels confident about. Don’t aim to import a container load initially – think about buying $5 to $10,000 worth and don’t put ourselves under too much pressure to sell it. Take it easy. Try and establish a few outlets over time. Website and expanding product line etc. can come later, depending on how it goes.
Saturday 15th – Wei and Chin come to lunch. We talk about going to Qingdao for a couple of days, me more with a view to sightseeing. But the Chinese don’t understand that. Don’t be flippant. What a waste of money. Only go there if there is a business objective. Ma has never been there, although it is only a three hour bus ride away. I suggest it would be good if we all went, but that involves accommodation and travel and meals and the logistics and expense knock it on the head almost before the words are out of my mouth. Lilly throws a wobbly once again, to everyone’s embarrassment and Ma and Chin head for safety in another room. Wei pours water on troubled waters and I just shut up. Calm is eventually restored. Sometimes I feel straitjacketed by Lilly’s overwhelming preoccupation with not spending money on anything. Is she saving it for Ma or to put it aside for herself in case she runs out later? I am resolved to resolving this problem once and for all.
Wei and Lilly have a long talk (with me observing in silence!) and he wants to take us to see this block of land. It is only quarter of an hour away. About 4 o’clock I remind them we should be going off to see it. So off we go, the four of us. Chin who always stays sober, drives. Lilly, who always stays sober, chats and entertains. We are traveling along this quite major (at least very wide highway) when suddenly there is a heap of rubble right across the road. People on bicycles have made a way around one end of it but it is quite impassable by car. We backtrack and search for another route. Eventually we find a way. Later we get lost and ask directions. We are really in the countryside. The road is up and down a bit, subsistence farming mainly. I really enjoy it, but it is not everyone’s cup of tea. The trip goes on and on. The roads get narrower and narrower, then become gravel. We bounce around a bit inside Wei’s sturdy little van. Everything is covered in dust. It gets dark and we are still persisting. Eventually we come to the land. It has taken us a couple of hours. It slopes to the north (therefore away from the sun) and it looks utterly desolate, even in the moonlight. There is 400 acres to be bought. It is suitable for growing cherries. Water comes from a large lake at the bottom of the property and evidently irrigation is already arranged. You lease from the government for a contracted period of 30 years. The forecasts point to big profits after 5 years. But it needs a lot of money up front. Wei also wants to put a cherry processing factory on it, because he is already arranging the purchase, processing and exporting of cherries. An Italian company is interested in it. I don’t say too much, having been involved in this sort of feasibility process many years earlier in NZ. The land looks rough and barely arable. I would halve the revenue forecasts and double the cost forecasts. I am skeptical. Thankfully so is Lilly.
We travel back into Yantai another way. The road is better. Mr Leong, one of Wei’s friends wants to take us to dinner. They were school mates. A lot of food and beer is again consumed. Mr John, the other big friend arrives half way through the meal. He has obviously already had a bit to drink, but they make him down a couple of quick glasses to catch up with us. It is all very convivial and thoroughly enjoyable. I try some of my limited Chinglish on them but they struggle to understand my accent. Strange. On top of what we had through a long lunch today, Wei and I are getting ever so slightly inebriated. Wei is a happy guy with a big heart. I don’t see him ever aggressive, always mild. Wah leurlah.
Sunday 16th – Wei and Chin have stayed over at Ma’s and this morning Wei goes off with some colleagues to have another look at the land. Later we go into his place with Chin and use their computer to send the mortgage discharge on Wicks back to the solicitors. Wei’s big fish bang the side of the aquarium when we arrive – they are scared. A big piece of glass from the top of the aquarium falls gently to the bottom. Wei and Suzy arrive for lunch. One of Wei’s big fish suddenly leaps straight out of the top of his acquarium and lands on the floor. It is spectacular. It has never happened before. Wei struggles to hold the fish but eventually gets it back into the aquarium and retrieves and replaces the glass.
Chin puts a big bowl of something hot on the solid glass table which also cracks. For the superstitious what does all the breaking glass mean? Mother would find something in it, but the Chinese are not saying, even if they are reading the signs. Anyway the lunch is great and the fish have settled down. I chat to Suzy a bit in English and we have another talk with Wei about the cherry land and land ownership in general (residential land is leased from the government for 70 years with payment up front, industrial land is 50 years and agricultural land 30 years, not sure of terms for the latter two). Wei thinks the government will not reclaim ownership at the end of the period but who knows. The glass is cracked and perhaps we are not seeing things clearly!
We visit two up-market department stores during the late afternoon and look at (and buy) artificial flowers and other giftware. We are getting ideas and Wei is able to extract from the Shop Assistants the supplier of products in each case. Well done. Some more research is necessary but we are making progress. A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step and we have taken a couple more today. Wei and Chin kindly drive us all the way home, although we want to catch a bus.
Monday 17th – Internet, table tennis, vege shopping, me wheeling the bike with flour and water on the back and veges and meat at front. Take some photos of Ma and her place. Do a Su Do Ku. A quiet day and early night.
Tuesday 18th – The usual again today. The weather is getting cooler, people are starting to wear jumpers. The days are warm and sunny but if there is a breeze it is cool. We are working about half a day and on holiday the rest. It is just too easy and comfortable – miss the newspaper and news a bit though. Lilly watches heavy Chinese family dramas in the evenings and we intersperse it a bit with the Chinese Provincial Games which are on right now. Tonight the human saga was particularly grueling with a lot of crying and weeping on TV and by Lilly.
Wednesday 19th – Same again today. Our days follow a pattern – we eat well and take it easy. Tonight after table tennis we go for a long walk down to the river. There are massive developments completed and taking place. I know China has a lot of people but where are they all going to come from, to fill these apartments and offices. By the time people are ready for them, will the buildings be run-down and dilapidated? Planners are thinking many years ahead, but maybe too far. Funds are allocated to build stuff but at least in some cases it appears there are no funds to secure it and maintain it. The development Ma is in, is a case in point. Somebody has buggered something up really badly. There are a lot of grandiose buildings and parks etc but the average person doesn’t have the savings or income to afford them. A lot of them are unoccupied. There is a large and quite nice park down by the river (tidal even up this far from the sea), big enough for tens of thousands of people but we saw only one person in it. Perhaps because there were millions of mozzies.
Thursday 20th – ditto except that today I had my first game of Chinese Chess. Lilly showed me the basics. It is confusing not just because of the functions of the two jumpers but more because the pieces are all the same except for the Chinese characters on the top of them. The characters all look the same to me, it is only when you inspect closely that you see the differences. And a black pawn (or soldier) has a different description from a white pawn. At least the pieces we have are coloured differently, how they manage on the street (where a lot of chess is played) beats me.
Friday 21st – a long session this morning at the internet café. We emerged into a bright sunny day, but with quite a strong northerly wind and it was bitter. They say it turns from warm to cold overnight – well it is really cold today although if you get out of the wind it is still OK. How lucky we are really. Look at all those poor people cycling north on the main road into the cold wind. It is strong enough to almost blow them backwards. We are cosy, well-fed and spoilt rotten, at least I am.
Saturday 22nd – Today Wei again kindly picked us up at 7 for the inter-city bus depot and off we go to Qingdao. Somebody vacated their seat at the front so Lilly and I could sit together in this small bus seating about 15. A careful woman driver with a young bloke (obviously her boyfriend) doing the organizing. Almost full by the time we left and they make a bit of cash on the side by watching out for passengers along the way. It is about three and half hours to Qingdao, the country is dry and everywhere there is maize and veg and more maize and some apples. We enter Qingdao from the poorer side of the city but it still looks quite interesting. It is up and down a bit and some of the roads are narrower and wind around more like a typical NZ city. Wei’s friend Mr Ren meets us in his Buick (a beautiful car) and off we go to a restaurant for lunch. His wife Angie joins us and we have a delicious seafood lunch. We then go to her office and spend the afternoon inspecting and buying some samples of quilts, placemats etc. She is taking off again on Monday for the Guangshou Trade Fair where she is concentrating on her other line which is bags. She was there last week but flew home for the weekend. Both Mr Ren and Angie are charming people. Angie speaks quite good English – she has mainly European customers. Mr Ren has another business elsewhere – much the same lines but he concentrates on the domestic market. They are obviously well-off. We go to another restaurant for dinner and their seven year old daughter joins us. Her name is Tina and she is a real sweetie. Talks a bit of English, plays the piano, is smart and mature. Again we are not allowed to pay the tab.
After dinner Mr Ren takes us for a drive along the waterfront. What do we have here? This is a beautiful city, with golden beaches and sloping gently to the sunny south. In the modern part of the city, there are huge skyscrapers and you could be in Sydney or any other bustling city. Development has spread along the coastline. There are some really beautiful places. We spend the night at the Hwang Her hotel. Three star about to be renovated and upgraded to four star.
Sunday 23rd – This is the day for Lilly and I to look around Qingdao on our own. We get up early and have a big breakfast before walking down to the beautiful beach. There are a lot of people, mainly elderly, swimming in the cool water (it is late Autumn). Others are playing volley ball or walking/running along the beach. We are pestered to use a surf ski but don’t take up the offer. We take a bus along the coastline in the direction of the old city. We pass a lot of large homes set in spacious grounds, probably a carry over of the German occupation of the city. Elsewhere we see signs of German architecture and design. The homes are being preserved evidently as a reminder of bygone times, but they look abandoned and it is a waste of space in my opinion. Nevertheless the more I see of this city, the more impressed I am.
Close to the old city centre, we walk out on a large pier that juts out into the bay. There are thousands of people on it. It was built at the time of the German occupation in about 1900. It has been partially destroyed by a typhoon once if not twice in the last 105 years. Qingdao gets a major typhoon about once every fifty years and by all accounts it cleans up virtually everything in its way.
We go to a large city department store and have a look at the artificial flowers, then head back in the direction of the hotel by cab. We visit a mini castle where Chiang Kai Shek, the Kuomintang chief, negotiated with the Liberation Army and considered his future in 1949. The American Navy was evidently anchored in the bay and contemplating their options at the time. (Chiang Kai Shek left China shortly after for Taiwan and was never to return to China). The castle was built by a Russian aristocrat in the 1930s. It is still quite grand with five floors and we get a great view from the turret at the top. We then walk through some narrow streets where there are little parks and many wedding couples are having their photos taken.
I am starting to like this place and am seriously thinking of buying a flat here. Lilly isn’t so keen. Later we went booked into another hotel and had a walk along the beachfront.
Monday 24th – Mr Ren picks us up with a friend and they take us to look at some possible properties. At one end of the waterfront area we see a new development where the flats are costing Y30,000 a square meter. We are talking about them being refurbished quite grandly but Y30,000 is over the top. A 300 square meter place will cost about A$1.5m. Further along we see stuff for half that price but it is still too expensive. This is gold rush city. Prices have doubled in the last 2 or 3 years.
It is more expensive than Beijing.
We bid farewell to Mr Ren, then see real estate agents asking about second hand places. We are in the wrong area in my opinion, although everyone keeps telling me there is no real estate for sale in the area I have my eye on. (where the sandy swimming beaches are). Doggedly I pursue my dream. We take off in a cab for the other end of the waterfront and wander around looking at a new development. We spot an agent, but they really don’t have much at that end. Eventually we get another cab and head back in the direction we first came from. When we get almost back to the centre of the new city we spot a Century 21 agent and go in. They take us to see three or four about 5 minutes walk away. This is more what I have in mind, but the prices are still almost double those of a similar standard in Beijing although one in particular has a nice sea view and this is virtually on the waterfront. Still we are looking at $400 to $500,000 to get something reasonable and that is a long way outside the budget. Right on the waterfront there is a free standing new three story town house. It looks beautiful and it has its own piece of land and garden. It is has just been built, is evidently beautifully refurbished and is being sold for Y20,000,000 which is about A$3.2m. This is almost Sydney waterfront prices. In years to come of course what will happen to it price-wise. Maybe prices seem high today but they will be even higher next year. There is an awful lot of property speculation here. Better not join it. What will prick the bubble? I resolve to buy two weeks after the next typhoon.
Wei’s other friend Mr John (who also has a Buick) is in Qingdao on business today so we are lucky as he takes us home. We leave about 4:30 but it is dark at 5:30 and we travel for about an hour and half in the dark. It is crazy stuff. He is quite a good driver and it is four lane highway (2 each way) but there are loony people on the road, many of them without tail lights or for that matter any lights. Somehow we make it back in one piece, traveling sometimes at 140k with absolutely minimal vision. It is a bit frightening.
We finish the day with a boozy meal with Wei, Chin and another friend of Weis, the Deputy Principle of the local TAFE college. Tiny little restaurant but the food is good and the company is jovial. The Deputy Principle and I exchange views on Politics but Lilly is worn out and so we don’t make much sense to each other.
Tuesday 25th – Early start at the Internet Café to catch up on all the activity of the past three days. Ditto for Dear Diary. The day starts really foggy. Crossing the road, dangerous at any time, is doubly so this morning. But the day turns out to be quite nice and warm. The biting wind has gone.
Wednesday 26th – We catch a cab into the city to look at the artificial flowers, then go to Wei’s office to talk about the discolouration of a cherry sample. Then went along to the beach park, taking photos. Dinner with Mr John at quite a nice place. This is where I had Y200 pinched, I am sure of it. In the toilets very small and there were several blokes coming and going as I entered. Home with Wei and Chin and they stay over at Ma’s.
Thursday 27th – Came With Wei and Chin into their place – on the Net in the morning – in the afternoon he takes us for a drive to the south of the city, over a hill, through quite a long tunnel – pleasant outlook – we stop to see a huge athletics/games stadium. Then on to view some apartments, four floors only. Quite nice, spacious, extensive sea views, yet to be refurbished but expensive. Will they be built out? Also view a large apartment development. Dinner with Wei and Chin – fondue pot style.
Friday 28th – With Wei and Chin – on the Net in the morning – in the afternoon we visit the Triumphal City on the waterfront in Yantai – it is a good locality but still not cheap. To buy a decent apartment is going to cost Y2m, but if we don’t what will happen to prices over the next few years? Dinner with Wei and his three musketeers. At last we are permitted to pay. Good evening finished by another chess lesson by the master. Sleep at Wei’s.
Saturday 29th – With Wei and Chin – on the Net in the morning – catching up with diary this morning – struggle to remember all the events of the past few days.
Lilly and Wei get all enthusiastic about a Business Translation Service. This is the way to go. I have reservations about whether I can be employed here for that type of thing. Also wonder who is offering the service and how competitive is it already. Anyway we shall see. Lilly and I argue and then set things straight. I hope she has her second thoughts about things almost immediately following the first. I need to be more tolerant and patient and understanding. Stroke her the right way. She is not well either, with a tummy bug. My beloved has so many wonderful qualities, forgive her a little bit of temper. Resolve to try harder.
Sunday 30th –Forget what happened today. I think we had another look at the Triumphal City, walked around it to see what developments could affect the views. Lilly is not well but we eat out with Wei and Chin at a little place downstairs where we select food.
Monday 31st – Quiet day at home today if I remember rightly.
NOVEMBER Tuesday 1st – Open for business today with four share transactions. Don’t expect much over the next few months. Today we got a cab into the city and looked at new blocks of flats just around the corner from Weis. Not so ambitious as prices are in the 700 to 800 range. Then went to the Yantai Foreign Office to find out the process for me working here – a bit of a process and will take time. Not enough time this trip. We need to have a business which can make me an invitation (or an offer I can’t refuse). Then we go for lunch at Chins, then later to the Company’s Office to see what we need for setting up a company. Then we go to the Yantai Planning Office – very impressive huge displays of developments underway and planned. Then we go shopping for jeans for us both. Home by cab. Lilly still not 100% and fills the air with all manner of noisy ones. I complete a diabolical Su Do Ku.
Wednesday 2nd – Today starts like any other day – off to the Internet Café at 7:30 for a four and a half hour session including conversations via SKPE with David T. Birthday good wishes flow in from all over the globe, George Bush seems to have overlooked it, unforgivable. We are now planning on me going straight back to Beijing on the morning of my flight to Australia. Lilly will stay and go to Don Ying with Ma later and to Beijing with Jing later still. Sensible thinking rather than lugging a lot of luggage about and I have seen Jing this trip anyway.
Tonight we go by cab into the city for dinner with Ma and Wei and Chin. They buy flowers for me and we have a great time at the same restaurant we had our first meal when we arrived in Yantai. Later we come home and burn paper (pressed or imprinted by real money) in order to send something to the ancestors. The thinking is to provide for them and also that they may look after us in this life and give us good luck. This happens twice a year, Autumn and Spring. The Autumn one is held on the Lunar Calendar month of October 1st. (which this year was November 2nd) The Spring one is held sometimes February, sometimes March depending on the Lunar Calendar.
Thursday 3rd – Quiet day at home today – we play table tennis. Today is a beautiful sunny day, with hardly any breeze. It is balmy almost like summer again. Talk to Ma about her Master – turns out she has many of them. She says 300. They talk to her about her physical condition and how to improve her health. They appear to be medical specialists. She may look bent and a bit frail but looks are deceiving. She is fit and strong and does a lot of breathing exercises, stretching and Tai Chi every day. She has been talking to her Masters since she was about 60, so I too expect to hear from them soon. We should be massaging our feet and ears every day because there are numerous pressure points that react with internal organs and stimulate blood flow etc.
Friday 4th – Lilly and I walk to an Open Market about 3km away. It is a huge open market where almost everybody is selling almost anything to almost everyone. The sights and sounds and smells are unbelievable. Goodness knows what it would be like on a cold day or a rainy day. Everything is very cheap, particularly after you haggle. We buy clothes for Ma and other bits and pieces including a new suitcase on wheels which we carry back home. (The motor doesn’t work) Another beautiful day.
Jing arrives today for the weekend. His mind arrives first and he is non-stop for a while. It is great to see him again. We don’t talk much, because we can’t, but the good vibes are there. I go back to the Internet Café in the afternoon because I have a lot to do. Wei and Chin arrive and Jing is entertaining everybody when I get back. We all have dinner together in the evening with Mr John, Mr Leong and Mr Tongue and Mr John’s new girlfriend Miss Liu. The meals out, are a sight to behold, particularly when there is a big group. The dishes just keep coming and mostly the food is delicious. Tonight it includes peking duck wrapped in with shallots and sauce into a sandwich. Very tasty. Copious beer is consumed by the blokes in a ritual of toasts and gumbays. Tonight Mr Leong is late again and he is ribbed about being a womanizer. He firstly has to catch up with the drinking but he is an uncountable number of rounds behind. He also has a sore eye but keeps the good one focused attentively on Miss Liu who sits beside him. Evidently he also chats to Chin on the Net which is a source of annoyance to Wei.
Saturday 5th – Off early to the Internet Café for quite a long session. I am starting to think about what I have to do in Australia and will have limited time. So I need to be right up to date.